When political parties forget they’re a brand

There will be many observations made about this election in June 2017, but here’s mine.

There’s a very simple set of principles in advertising.

Over the years, if you watch closely, you can see them played out in various campaigns to great effect. You can also see when those principles are ignored and disasters ensue.

Principles like how a brand leader behaves and how a challenger brand behaves.

There is one area where the two major brands constantly swop roles and can behave differently depending on their position at any given time. Indeed how they behave can define their role.

One could argue that, going in to the election, the Conservatives were the brand leader in this case with the polls predicting a landslide and labour was the challenger.

If you are a brand leader you don’t concern yourself with your challenger brands.

You don’t find Coke talking about Pepsi. You don’t see Apple talking about Samsung. If you are a brand leader you set out your stall with confidence in the knowledge your offering is superior.

Samsung talks about Apple though. That’s the challenger’s role. What’s so great about Apple phones anyway? we have this that and the other and they don’t.

The challenger needs to disrupt, bite at the heels of the brand leader. We’re number 2, so we try harder.

So here’s my theory.

Over the course of the election Labour adopted the brand leader positioning and Conservatives were adopting a challenger role.

Nobody had told them they didn’t need to challenge labour.

The Conservative’s approach was a ‘strong and stable’ leadership. No solid policies, no clear manifesto. Their strategy was ‘we’re not that bunch of deadbeats’.

‘Not being something else’ is never great when its said from a superior position. It just sounds smug.

The Left went for a clear and honest manifesto. They didn’t try and slag off Theresa May, they left that to the electorate.

This somehow put the Labour party in to a positioning of brand leader. They were looking straight ahead, this is what we are going to do. Make your choice.

While the Tories insisted they were the only choice, without giving us much of a reason.

And lo and behold the Labour vote surged.

Sometimes the only thing holding a brand back is the way it talks and behaves. Alpha people behave like alpha people, they don’t need permission.

The Tories campaign came from what research must have told them. People want a strong and stable leadership, so they kept saying ‘we’re strong and stable’. It was the political equivalent of a 1950’s ad campaign with an annoying slogan that just gets repeated over and over.

‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”

People often confuse what they say with how they want to be perceived.

Labour behaved strong and stable and won the argument.

They came across as honest, earnest and thought through, a few minor Dianne Abbot interviews notwithstanding.

Maybe it wasn’t quite enough, but in terms of brands Labour went from no hopers to contenders in a very short space of time.

Now somehow we’re in a world where May won but lost and Corbyn lost but won.

But I know who’ll be keeping their job.



Being funny without telling a joke.

I once did a freelance stint in a German office of JWT and the CEO there was quite the cliche ‘American’ ad-man, not a German.
An ex-creative director himself, he had a good sense of the process and was no fool.

But we differed on some points, one of which was that he thought the whole ‘don’t tell me you’re funny make me laugh’ thing was in his words ‘horseshit’.

Just tell me you are funny and do it several times, loudly.

It’s an approach that can work if you have enough budget and the audacity.

Remind you of anyone?

If you look at the orange-groper-elect himself, he has had a platform where he can tell everyone he is brilliant, day in day out without any real evidence to support him.

People believed him and his ‘winner’ positioning, even when, despite his obvious personal wealth, the evidence of his many failures is everywhere. Atlantic City Casinos, Trump University. Trump Mortgages et al.

His repeated claim to be awesome and the answer to America’s prayers is largely based on his claim to be the awesome and the answer to America’s prayers.

Maybe we have all been wrong about the whole funny comedian thing.

It can be done, if nobody stops you from claiming it. And that’s the one thing nobody realises about political advertising, you can say whatever bollocks you like and there is no organisation who can stop you or pull you up on it.

But in Pharmaland (or indeed consumer advertising if its something like alcohol) we can’t make claims to be funny or amazing if we ain’t.

All we can do is be funny or amazing.

How many times have you had a client ask you to ‘imply’ superiority?

So how does a brand claim something without claiming it?

The best way to find out is to study how some brands have managed it.

One of my favourite campaigns of all time was the UK campaign for Stella Artois which ran from 1982 to 2007 created by CDP and imported to the then Lowe Howard Spink by Frank Lowe when he left to set up his own agency.

‘Reassuringly expensive’ reinforced what we all secretly think. That the more expensive something is, the better the quality.

But did it actually say it was superior quality?

Not so much.

I use this example knowing full well that this type of advertising is now almost extinct.

But what we have in its place are the type of ideas that use the same device, saying things without saying them. A personal favourite is The gun shop by Grey New York for States United to prevent gun violence that purports to be selling perfectly innocent second hand guns until you realise all the guns on sale have been used to kill someone either in a mass killing or in a tragic accident, like the five year old that shot his nine month baby sister.

Needless to say people left the shop without buying a gun.

Because the concept lets you draw your own conclusions.

And that is the secret to a really powerful connection with your consumer.

That’s what changes behaviour.

I’ve always believed that anyone can tell you they’re funny but the ones we remember are the people who actually make us laugh.

It’s still the best policy if you’re not allowed to make claims you can’t support.

Unless of course you’re running for President, obviously.






Sorry guys, but REMAIN bombed in research.

I know what you’re thinking, of all the perspectives – both wildly positive and apocolyptic on BREXIT over the last couple of weeks, I haven’t read one from a poncy flowery-shirted Creative Director.

I wonder why that is?

Maybe it’s because we are sooooo over asking the public for their opinions and soooo not surprised when the answer isn’t the one we wanted.

What the hell do people (you know…those loathesome consumers out there) know about EU subsidies, trade deals and the WTO?

Apparently not as much as we’d all hoped.

What they do know about is foreigners coming over here and stealing all the jobs in factories, beating down living wages and not getting a hospital bed.

IE: The things that matter to them. The things they were promised would change.

Well, good luck with that.

For me, despite its best intentions, the strategy behind the REMAIN communication campaign was a tincey-wincey bit flawed.

Whether this was deliberate or whether I am just picking up on the overall media confusion I am not sure, but it seemed like they were targeting more or less everybody who could vote.

Yeah, because that ALWAYS works.

But we all knew that BREXIT had a huge fault line between the different generations.

If you were a client with two options on possible target markets, you’d probably choose the market that was most likely to buy your product- right?

You’d be surprised how often that doesn’t happen.

Don’t believe me? It is a well known, but well ignored, fact that the greatest buying power in consumerland is not the most targeted – 18-30 year old market – but the most overlooked, over 50s market.

Over 50s have all the money but none of the cool. Nevertheless the only time we see people of a certain age in advertising is either women having ‘windypop’ issues or men with ‘leakage’ trouble.

Now to my mind, in terms of messages the REMAIN campaign went this direction:

Don’t side with Farage or Boris, they’re racist old dickheads.

Travel and working abroad is great!

Everyone’s our friend these days.

We can work out our problems.

Don’t be a racist!

Be part of something bigger than our little island.

All good and worthy messages, depending on your opinion. But do you detect a slight youth bias? The aspirational dream of a better world where we are all friends and making each other daisy chains?

Now, to a sixty year old’s ear this is all insufferable bollocks.

EU-Campaign-Wolfgang-Tillmans---Between-Bridges5 eu-referendum-remain-campaign-posters-by-wolfgang-tillmans_dezeen_936_5

You had to dig quite a bit deeper to find anything about financial collapse, new trade deals dependent on free movement, extracating ourselves from 40 years of EU & UK law…the lack of investment, EU subsidies withdrawal, all the stuff that could have struck a chord with the over 50s.

And when they did talk about it, it was labelled ‘Project Fear’.

REMAIN had the harder brief, I grant you. As any Pharma brand knows, the promise of maintaining the ‘status quo’ isn’t that sexy.

Normal is boring. There’s a lot of walking on beaches and parks involved.

But then look at the LEAVE campaign strategy, it positively dripped with the promise of new and exciting, which any creative will tell you is a well…a walk in the park:

Get our country back.

Don’t believe the experts.

Take control.

The EU is undemocratic.

We didn’t fight in two world wars to be bossed about by Germans.

Put the money back in to our system (The NHS)

It’s not racist to want border control.

No wonder this worked for the silver-haired brigade. You see, people over 50 believe they are the experts. And they’ve seen ‘so-called experts’ be proved wrong before dammit!!. The older you get the more you want control, not partnerships and a French pen-pal. Plus, the baby-boomers were raised on WW2 films, books and comics where plucky Brits were always trying to beat or escape those pesky Germans.

Don’t think that doesn’t have a residual effect.

The LEAVE campaign didn’t have to bother with tackling the fluffy stuff because their voters weren’t interested anyway.

Like in those research groups for car commercials, there is always a mouthy know-it-all that declares: I don’t care about the cool people on the mountain road, tell me about the MPG!

But then we look at the numbers of who voted what.

75% of under 24 year olds wanted to remain.

81% of 55-64 year olds wanted to leave.

Before the vote, it was split down the middle between old and young with a little bias towards remain.

Then you look at who actually voted, which is quite different to a poll.

Reputedly, only 36% of 18-30 year olds actually bothered to make it down to the polling station.


The cool kids driving the car on the mountain road… guess what? they don’t buy new cars.

Strategically, what the REMAIN camp needed to do was talk to the older LEAVE campaign supporters in a way that related to them. Forget the fluffy bollocks angle.

This was now famously one of the ads that never ran, produced by M&C Saatchi. Personally I think it could have helped.


So then what happened?

The day after the vote The Sun publishes all the facts that will effect us now we’re out of the EU. Suddenly people were outraged and showing buyer’s remorse. “Why didn’t they tell us?’ was the question being asked in all the tabloids.

Why indeed.

Well, because REMAIN were too busy being the Coca-Cola ad on the hill, teaching the world to sing.

And now the pound is in the toilet, racists apparently feel they have a license to attack anyone who looks a bit foreign and irony or ironies, we’re having to recruit more foreigners to help negotiate our exit because we don’t have enough skilled negotiators to do it.

Perhaps the REMAIN campaign should have listened harder to their marketing experts. Perhaps a cross-party committee wasn’t the best way to choose the work, (no shit).

Or perhaps like Michael Gove, they’d simply had enough of experts.









The problem with creative revolutions.

Why should creative be the preserve of creatives? Anyone can have an idea? Ideas don’t care who has them! Collaboration is the new way of working, don’t be so traditional.

Sound familiar?

Frankly, if your agency isn’t having a creative revolution you’re really not hanging with the cool kids.

But if you are, let’s assume that it is only the creative work your agency produces that is the subject of this type of ‘revolt’.

I mean, nobody seems to be saying Why should finance be the preserve of accountants?

Creative work has a tendency to appear quite sparkly and appealing by comparison.

Of course creativity has always been a collaborative process. Without a great strategy most creative ideas are just fluff and without account handling skill those ideas can die cruel and painful deaths. It’s all teamwork.

So what’s new?

Well now ‘silos’ is the new dirty word in adland.

Yes, silos…otherwise known as ‘departments’.

In last week’s Campaign magazine we have Anna Vogt (DLKW Lowe’s head of planning) ushering in a new age of Planning via more collaboration with creative teams. Planners now need to be involved in casting, music and directors treatments. Planners will be encouraged to pitch their own ideas alongside Creatives.

So, good news for all those student creatives wasting their time slogging it out on the streets of Soho and doing placements for years at agencies who never intend to hire them.

Just become a planner.

But what’s brought on this sudden rush to democratize creativity as if it’s been the sole preserve of an elite band of Artisans and perverts?

Maybe we should look at who or what is a creative?

Nobody ordains you at birth, nobody puts you in that department because you’re weirder, more socially inept, have a bigger ego or a better than average chance of wearing clothes twenty years too young for your age.

So where do we come from?

Say you wanted to have a creative brainstorm and you didn’t have any creatives in your agency. No problem because, well, Anyone can have good ideas right?

Well, let’s assume that Jenny from finance has a cracking idea during that brainstorm.

Okay, so Jenny has such a good idea and it becomes a famous campaign. The next time there’s a brainstorm or a creative brief and you don’t have any creatives because anyone can have a creative idea, Jenny is likely to be invited right?

In fact Jenny from finance keeps getting invited to those brainstorms until pretty soon someone thinks she should do this full time and actually another agency gets interested in Jenny to come and think up ideas in their agency and before she knows it she’s a…well…shit…this can’t be right…er…..Jenny is a…a fucking creative.

Well, we’re not inviting her to the next brainstorm for a start! Get me a planner!

That’s all we are. People who are quite good at coming up with ideas, and writing and having decent taste and solving problems laterally. After a while you can get pretty good at it if you keep doing it enough. You might even get to judge what is a good idea and what will and won’t work – based on your past experience.

Those people are called Creative Directors and they tend to have got there on the back of some decent advertising ideas they did before.

(This is of course no qualification for Creative Direction in its self but it’s a broad indicator).

The beauty of creative departments is that it’s a wonderful meritocracy. You come up with ideas that people like, someone will pay you for it. You don’t, and you have to find someone that will.

All the long beards and pink hair in the world can’t help an idealess creative.

You have no divine right to sit at the table of creativity without raw talent or a track record. But that doesn’t mean you can’t.

If you are that Jenny from accounts, go for it. Learn your craft, work at it and enjoy it because yes, literally anyone can be a creative. You just need to be able to come up with ideas all the time and to order. And your career will be ultimately judged by those ideas. I wonder if you are a planner pitching your idea alongside creatives, will you have the same level of terror at producing a turkey, if not for the client for your own reel and subsequent career?

“But we don’t want to be creatives, we want to be planners who have creative ideas.”

So what of agency creative revolutions? Is the time right to throw out your creatives and replace them with circus performers?

A few years back it was crowd sourcing that was going to revolutionise creativity.

In August 2010 Pepperami decided to ditch their agency and crowd-source their new TV campaign. Out of 1,200 entries by the general public the £10,000 prize money was won by a….yes you guessed it, a freelance fucking creative team.

 I mean what is the point of a creative revolution if all the creatives keep coming up with the ideas!!!!

Take the real life case history from Harvard Business school concerning an agency in Stockholm who had decided to shake things up creatively. The MD had replaced the award winning Creative Directors with his head of strategy. He put production in charge of pitches, he made creatives do strategy and turned everything on its head. He wanted to revolutionise things and not have prima-donnas (AKA creatives) getting in the way of the work.

He hired technicians, artists, inventors and theatre directors.

Two prima-donnas bad, four random specialists good!

Now, to be fair, the agency has been very successful, but advertising has become only 20% of their business. Inventing things has taken over. So be it.

So what became of the new CD?

Turned out that he had to ‘let him go’ as within a couple of months he was seen as getting in the way of ideas and being counter productive, rather like a…er….Creative Director you might say.


So since then he has done without any CDs and had ‘project leads’ do the job.

So, still got creative leads then.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”