Posts By: yuvraj singh

Politicians may express a desire for transparency, but when it comes to advertising…‘Rules, what rules?’

The appointment of M&C Saatchi by the Conservative Party
to steer the party’s and David Cameron’s advertising made for an intriguing
start to this year’s election campaign. The old Saatchi and Saatchi team are of
course famous for the advertisement for Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 Conservative
Party campaign, “Labour isn’t working” which
some suggest won the Tories the election.

It’s arguable whether the 2010 campaign has
produced much in the way of memorable advertising to rival that infamous piece
of work with both the Tories and Labour appearing to have resorted to spoofs
and old clichés. But how far can the parties go in the advertising battle to
win the voters?

The advertising codes of practice (known as the CAP and BCAP
rules) enforced by the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) require all
advertisements to be legal, decent, honest and truthful but MPs argued that the
codes ought not to apply to political advertising for elections.

The argument is that it is inappropriate for the ASA, as a
non-elected body, to intervene in the democratic process; that ASA rulings
would have little practical value because the complex issues involved meant
that rulings would probably be made after election day; that ASA adjudications
would come within the arena of political debate; and that party political
advertisements are always subject to a disproportionate amount of media scrutiny.

Perhaps a lot of disillusioned readers will be unsurprised
that the codes – which apply to all other advertisers – do not apply to our
politicians, but that does not mean
mistakes have not been made in the past or that no rules exist at all.

Political parties are not permitted to advertise on
television, save for the party political broadcasts. In addition the
Broadcasters’ Liaison Group produced guidelines that the parties must
adhere to. Unsurprisingly, TV
commercials have to be legal and not infringe any copyright or other
intellectual property rights and they must comply with the Ofcom broadcast codes,
but crucially, accuracy remains a matter for the parties.

In non-broadcast media and on the
internet, political ads are unrestricted and political parties are keen to get
their messages across as vocally as possible. Though the days of billboards
being plastered across the country with political advertising are probably
over, (because the rules on media owners providing free space to political parties
has been made illegal), the rise in the importance of the internet may well
outstrip the importance of the outdoor medium. As well as the party website,
all the party leaders have their own blogs and micro sites, but there is still
a risk that an edgy campaign can backfire.

The now infamous “Demon Eyes” adverts featuring Tony Blair
with fiendish eyes only appeared in three newspapers but the advertisements
were condemned by the church and the Advertising Standards Agency banned the
image. Voters claim to despise negative political advertising but it works,
especially with younger voters.

From the Tories beaming Gordon Brown billboard (itself a
rather frightening sight) with the words “I
let out 800,000 criminals early, vote for me”
to the photoshopped image of David Cameron that led
to a plethora of spoof versions, the campaigns have been hit and miss with both
voters and the parties alike. It’s perhaps not surprising that all the ads look
the same, given the similarities between the parties.

With the lack of regulation surrounding
election campaign advertising, voters can rely on little more than their own
intuition when it comes to believing the facts portrayed. A general election is
a battle ground. Under such conditions, do you think self-regulated accuracy
might sometimes take a backseat?

Palomba is a partner at Reed Smith
specialising in advertising
law and regulation and past Legal Director of the Institute of Practitioners in

Read more on Politicians may express a desire for transparency, but when it comes to advertising…‘Rules, what rules?’…

Does Election knocking copy work?

Misleading election leaflets, ‘Orwellian’ poster campaigns and plain, simple lies. Will negative campaigning prove a vote winner or floating-vote swinger.

When David Cameron accused Gordon Brown of negative campaigning in Labour leaflets at the TV debate, we dived straight into MESH’s real-time Experience Data to see what 1,100 floating voters from Research Now’s panel were saying.

But the study is not a poll in the usual sense, instead, MESH asked people to text whenever they see, hear or experience anything to do with one of the political parties. They tell us the party, the occasion, how it made them feel and how likely the experience made them to vote for a party. So, we pick up all voters’ experiences, whether they are checking out a debate, seeing a party poster stuck in a field or having a chat about TV news with work colleagues.

And what does it tell us?

Well, we’ve noticed a big surge in leaflet experiences. In the week of the first leaders’ debates, 6% of all floating voters’ experiences were with leaflets, compared with 11% this last week. We’re getting more texts for posters too (up from 8% to 10%). TV news and the leaders’ debates – still influential touchpoints – have slipped from 26% to 23% and 18% to 13% respectively. Following the excitement of Nick Clegg’s first TV debate performance on 15 April, politics has this week gone local.

But are the leaflets actually persuading anyone?

Actually, they are. 16% of Labour leaflet experiences are persuading people to vote for them. But 32% of Labour leaflet experiences are persuading our floating voters NOT to vote for them (a net persuasiveness of -16%). Over half of all leaflet experiences (53%) are making no difference to people’s likelihood to vote Labour. On the other hand, Liberal Democrats are doing much better with their leaflets (net persuasiveness of +25%) and the Conservative are faring a bit better this week than last with theirs (+17% v +8% net persuasiveness).

What’s pushing people in one direction or the other?

Actually, their opponents’ negative campaigning in itself isn’t having the worst effect for Labour. It’s Labour’s actual record which has been negative over the last few years. Seeing a Labour leaflet is reminding our floating voters of what they’ve done wrong. One participant commented “Mr Brown has got the country into a bloody mess and I feel very negative about Labour”.

But this has been Labour’s problem right from the beginning. Negative campaigning does compound the issue, and can often rebound on the party putting out the knocking copy as one floating voter comments.

“It did annoy me as it pointed out that the Conservatives wouldn’t match the Labour Party with their two week targets for any suspected cancer patients to be seen. As most people know someone who suffers from cancer, I feel it is a cheap shot at trying to almost blackmail voters.”

In stark contrast, the positive delivery of Lib Dem leaflets was seen to positively persuade our voters, particularly at the local level.

“This was a leaflet featuring Clive Sneddon. In it he talked about increasing the tax threshold to £10k, no tuition fees for children, investing in public transport, renewable energy and energy efficient homes, and also talked about giving people the right to sack corrupt MPs. Made me feel very positive and was very no nonsense.”

The Conservatives did lots of leafleting early on but it was overkill for many. Their heavyweight poster campaign also backfired in terms of tone. Many floating voters thought putting Brown’s face on a poster with a negative line was cheap and off-putting. One participant, with a poster right outside their house, commented “the poster campaign for the Conservative party opposite my house looks positively Orwellian.” It’s important to remember context.

Traditionally, negative campaigning is used to depress the vote amongst an opponent’s weak supporters. It works less well, if at all, with floating voters.

In the UK 2010 General Election, negative campaigning isn’t working. People are looking for simple believable policies. This explains why the Liberal Democrat experiences are coming through so strongly. What remains to be seen is what all these experiences add up to.

We’ll continue to collect floating voters’ intentions each week and we’ll find out how they actually vote on 6 May. That’s when we’ll be able to correlate negative experiences to votes.

On the question of whether negative messages win votes, we’ll see. But in an end of era election like this is panning out to be, somehow we doubt it. After all, the Tory demon eyes campaign didn’t keep Blair out, did it?

Fiona Blades is Founder and CEO, MESH Planning and formerly Planning Director at Claydon Heeley.

Dr. Paul Baines is Reader in Marketing at Cranfield School of Management and Co-author (With Sir Robert Worcester and Roger Mortimore) of ‘Explaining Labour’s Landslip’ (Politico’s 2005).

Read more on Does Election knocking copy work?…

When email gets political

There can be no
doubt Barack Obama rewrote the rulebook with his use of digital marketing
during the last US election. Catalysed by this success the UK’s political
parties have jumped aboard the bandwagon for the 2010 general election.

Read more on When email gets political…

‘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.

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

Labour’s new media manifesto

Election manifestos are important documents. They force
political parties to focus, focus, focus on what they want to say and who they
want to say it to. This means parties stocktake on what has been done before
and what has worked before in order to form the core infrastructure for a
communications strategy. This includes selecting the most appropriate messages,
tactics and vehicle to get that all important information across.

Read more on Labour’s new media manifesto…

Searching for votes: What would Google do?

Many newspaper and broadcast
outlets are tasking specific journalists with producing shiny features on how
the internet is making this election different to all the rest and in the last
couple of days it’s been coverage of
political parties’ search strategies
, or
the more easy-to-explain end of that, search ads.

Read more on Searching for votes: What would Google do?…

Pick up the gauntlet and pick a politician

With a General Election where there’s no Obama-type
candidate to vote for, just individuals and parties that you want to vote
against, switching the focus of Albion’s successful slapping meme to the party
leaders is providing useful barometer in what could be a unique election.

Read more on Pick up the gauntlet and pick a politician…

It’s the audience, stupid!

There’s a definite meme that’s powerful amongst the political and media class about this being the internet election. I’m asked the question a lot by mainstream media and you can see why the combination of an easy label and shiny gadgets combine to produce a seductive narrative that enables journalists to tell audiences why this election is different to all the others.

Read more on It’s the audience, stupid!…