Monthly Archives: April 2010

Clegg’s success? #davidcameronsfault

Back in February I was in the audience at TED listening to David Cameron talk about his idea for the Big Society. His idea was essentially this: the balance of power has shifted away from the traditional model of centralised control because the public can now express their views in real time and en masse. The public are now empowered to take control. A Conservative government would give the public more control.

The talk disappointed me on a number of levels:

Firstly, TED isn’t the place to launch, or test, a political manifesto. Secondly, the reasoning in the talk just wasn’t intellectually robust (I found his sweeping generalisations of social and political history – from King Canute to the Nirvana in three easy steps; watch it here – incredibly naïve). Thirdly, and I think most importantly, it was clear from my position, three rows back from the front, that what he was presenting was not really his idea, nor did he really believe it, or even understand it. He was just jumping on a bandwagon that happened to be passing, and now it’s ended up taking him somewhere he really didn’t want to go.

What Cameron doesn’t understand is the fundamental principle of what Big Society really means. Here’s an example of the idea in action that illustrates what I mean: the movement that got Rage Against The Machine to beat the X-Factor single to the Christmas Number 1. The point of the Rage movement was that the public did not want to be manipulated and controlled by Simon Cowell. So, they took control themselves. But taking control didn’t mean buying another newly released, direct competitor to Joe McElderry, it meant plucking something from past obscurity – something far moved from the thing they were rallying against. Rage Against The Machine didn’t put themselves forward for that role, it was thrust upon them (they happened to have an appropriate name). They were accidental beneficiaries of a public statement of discontent – that it was they that benefited was irrelevant; that it wasn’t Joe McElderry was the real point. The public manipulated the artist, not the other way round. They were toying with the music industry, for no more reason than they could – a fact made even more obvious as the self same label, Sony BMG, represents RATM as Simon Cowell’s protégée. (I blogged about this story earlier this year here).

My point is this: the principle of Big Society is that when the public take control, they take control, they don’t just cede it to someone else. What Cameron offers doesn’t address that, it simply acknowledges the fact that it is true. The reason it lacks “wow”, and why it has failed to resonate as a powerful theme, is because it is a generic truth, not something that he or his party has ‘discovered’. The public already know it, and they also know that what he is offering doesn’t deliver what it actually means. He’s not giving people control, he’s asking people to give control to him. He’s not seriously saying that the public will decide on every single issue – and if, after three months, enough people on Twitter say they don’t like you, David, are you really saying that you will go? No. He’s just peddling an idea that someone in his strategy team thought was trendy but didn’t really understand what it meant.

But Big Society has had a big influence on this election, just not in the way Cameron meant. What the leaders’ debates have revealed to the disenchanted public is the political equivalent to Rage Against The Machine: Nick Clegg. Of course there has always been such a thing as a protest vote. But in the past, each protest vote was an uncoordinated and therefore irrelevant thing – protest votes were split amongst abstention, spoiled ballot papers, votes for the Monster Raving Looney Party or any number of others. Now, in Big Society, protest votes coagulate to a single focus that ensures that the protest vote actually counts. Clegg’s sudden popularity in this election is not really due to his qualities and policies as a potential leader, but mostly because he’s not the other two. This is Cameron’s big, but generic idea in action. Except he’s its victim rather than the recipient of its benefits that he has so misunderstood.

Big society doesn’t want to elect a leader. It is the leader. As whoever wins this election will come to understand pretty soon.

Jim Prior is CEO of The Partners

Follow @Jim_Prior on Twitter

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I want to be different, just like everyone else

Alcatraz is an absolutely
amazing place.
It was where people who
couldn’t be allowed to escape ended up.

People like Al Capone.

The worst of the worst.

A prison on a piece of rock,
surrounded by water.

Read more on I want to be different, just like everyone else…

‘Read between the lies’ in the TV debates for tactical advertising

the current political climate and the election being the number one discussion
point in everyone’s home, you would have thought the public has had enough of

not. Last weekend political thriller The Ghost delivered a box office result of
£854k. Based on the book by Robert Harris, former political editor, the film
tells the story of a ghost writer who is engaged to assist with the memoirs of
Adam Lang, a recently unseated British premier facing the prospect of a
war-crimes prosecution for assisting the rendition of terror suspects.

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Time for the Outdoor Advertising Association to look forward

With Alan James retiring from his position as chief executive of the OAA, it will be interesting to see in what direction they head as a trade body.

Although I am an old-boy, my ear is closer to the sound of the 70’s and 80’s, rather than the ground of the Outdoor industry and the history of the OAA. Therefore I have done some quick research, a Skype chat with an opinionated Celt who’s been in Outdoor as long as a BBC executive’s monthly taxi expenses claim.

Read more on Time for the Outdoor Advertising Association to look forward…

Spectator takes a bite out of Nick Clegg. We laughed.

It is not often I would care to say this, but The Spectator has summed up Nick Clegg in so few words that it seems perfectly rude not to share them.This was shared in the office and we laughed. I don’t feel bad about that at all.

Read more on Spectator takes a bite out of Nick Clegg. We laughed….

What’s with Dave’s new poster?

The latest Tory ‘creative’ depicts David Cameron – reportage-style, shirtsleeves up and a definite lack of airbrushing – accompanied by the booming caption: ‘Let’s cut benefits for those who refuse to work.’ So much for the ‘Big Society’, showcased last week, it doesn’t even seem to be worth backing up with marketing spend.

Read more on What’s with Dave’s new poster?…

Editor’s blog: Farewell silent skies

Naturally I was pleased for all those poor souls stranded from Bombay to Bogota (and thankful for the sake of our queasy economy), but it was with a heavy heart that I listened to the first 747 drone and rumble over my house at 9.55 last night en route to Heathrow. The first one comes over at 4.20am on most days when the customary wind from the South West is blowing.

We’ve got secondary glazing on all windows but I can still tell you from my bed if it’s an A380, 777 or a screeching 747-400. And this morning Heathrow is lobbying the Department of Transport to allow all-night flying, to clear the backlog of stranded aircraft and trolly dollies. So we’re all in for a rubbish few nights.

Call me a small-minded nimby, but I thought Mayor ‘Cwipes’ Johnson was onto something when he came up with his ‘crackpot’ idea to relocate London’s Heathrow in the middle of the Thames estuary to the east of London. It may employ three-quarters of the residents of Hounslow and Southall, and offer rich pickings for armed robbers in search of gold bullion, but London’s main airport brings more than its fair share of unpleasantness for millions.

If Heathrow were to be built from scratch nobody in their right mind would put the incoming flight path over the heads of so densely packed a population. I’ll chain myself to a JCB to prevent a third runway going in next to the M4.

Maybe it was a short break in the UK last week on Dartmoor that reminded me of the UK’s attractions and what a wretched business air travel has become. We had a smooth ride down the A303, past Stonehenge, four days of sun, amazing moorland views, fantastic food (at the White Horse in Moretonhampstead) and a ride on a steam train into the heart of the Totnes soap-dodgers. All without the vapour trails at 35,000 feet to and froing from New York and Toronto.

Because it’s so commonplace, flying has lost all its romance. And unless you can afford the seats on the left as you step on board it’s cramped and unpleasant.

I’m already dreading the nastiness of two Ryanair flights with small kids going to Italy in August. The grim state of Stansted at 7.30am. The fear that I’ve done something wrong during the online booking which will be jumped upon by a triumphant Bernadette at the check-in and I’ll be sent back to ticketing to cough up another 200 euros. Then I’ll be forced to sup on the baby’s milk in front of some officious BAA operative as the toddler poos himself while trying to climb into the x-ray machine. The scratchcards, the Bullseye baggies. Wake me up and tell me it’s only a nightmare. But then, the same goes for staying at home all summer.

Read more on Editor’s blog: Farewell silent skies…

What happened to Kinetic at this year’s outdoor awards?

Clear Channel's Outdoor Grand Prix winners

Last night belonged
to Posterscope at this year’s Clear Channel Outdoor Planning Awards.

The specialist
Aegis agency was triumphant in all five out-of-home categories for its work
with PHD, MPG, Walker Media and Hyperspace.

The agency,
which roughly commands about 41% of the UK’s outdoor business, rightly
walked away with the grand prize, along with PHD, for its ‘Here today, Goo
tomorrow’ campaign for Cadbury Creme Egg.

But when the
winning entries were announced in front of more than 200 agency and industry execs at London’s Paramount club, a venue with arguably the best outdoor views
in the country, it did beg the question what happened to Kinetic?

WPP’s Kinetic
were shortlisted in a handful of entries, most notably for its work with MEC on Orange Wednesday. But for an
agency which commands around 44% of the market this must be a disappointment.

Of course the team can only work with the copy and brief provided, but did the quantity and quality of award submissions play a part?

contingent circulating the room last night were magnanimous in
defeat: “Well, the work speaks for itself,” said one executive, “you can’t
argue with that.”

Have to admit it threw me a bit, until after a brief
pause he added: “However, I’m surprised Orange Wednesday didn’t do better, it really should have won, and let’s not forget IPM walked away with the bulk of the swag last year so it’s just the way it goes sometimes… and actually that Creme Egg work is really over-rated.”

Normality resumed.

Read more on What happened to Kinetic at this year’s outdoor awards?…

Two horse race

According to a study by the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, published just last week, the human brain is fundamentally unable to cope with three things at once; the maximum extent of our multi-tasking ability is to handle just two at a time. The study reports that the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (MPC) – the part of our brain that drives our behaviour based on the value of rewards – is where the restriction lies. In multiple choice situations the MPC divides itself in two, each half dealing with one choice. But it cannot divide into more than two, so any choice between three or more things needs to be simplified before it can be made.

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Tory campaign "most inept… in living memory"

As the media attempts to canonise Nick Clegg, things are going from bad to worse for the Tories as Bell Pottinger chairman Peter Bingle calls the party’s election campaign the most inept in “living memory” in a leaked memo.

Can we stop a minute and take someone temperature? The Sunday Times went bonkers at the weekend (I mean literally) with its frothy front page headline “Nick Clegg nearly as popular as Winston Churchill”. One world war and one TV debate naturally being the exact same thing.

Worse than that it then confounded this piece of bad journalism by referring to this screamer again today saying that Clegg was in the “surprising position of having to talk down headlines that put his popularity on a par with Churchill” (without pointing out it was the culprit behind the headlines).

At the moment no one knows what the Lib Dem poll surge means. They today stand on 33% compared to the Tory’s 32% and Labour’s 26%, but the key question is will it last and translate to anything significant that will boost the party’s presence in the House of Commons much beyond its current 62 seats?

It appears likely that this figure will rise and it looks like it will hit the Tories hard. They are panicking and attacking Clegg (soft on crime/immigration et cetera) and warning that voting for the Lib Dems could keep Gordon Brown in power and the Tories out for a very long time.

Read more on Tory campaign “most inept… in living memory”…