Judging by the advertising that came out of this year’s general
election campaign, there was no doubt the politicians were in the
Admen in both parties had to grit their teeth as their proposals were
left on the shelf.
Throughout the election campaign, the relationship between Maurice
Saatchi and the Conservative Party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, had been
’Where are the ads?
These won’t do - get some different ones,’ Mawhinney barked at Saatchi
during one of their many bitter exchanges. ’You have your marching
orders,’ he had also warned.
In 1992, Saatchi had been much more influential because John Major was
still finding his feet as an election campaigner. Left-wingers accused
Labour of sub-contracting its campaign to anonymous advertising men. In
1997, by contrast, the politicians were firmly in control.
Paradoxically, last week’s election should have been a high-water mark
for advertising. The Tories’ pounds 12.7 million budget and Labour’s
pounds 7.6 million kitty dwarfed anything they had spent before, while
Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party swelled the total spend by pounds
7.7 million. The combined spend of pounds 28 million since last summer
might never be beaten; Tony Blair’s Labour Government may restrict each
party’s national spending on elections to pounds 10 million under new
rules on party funding.
But despite the big budgets, there were few memorable ads as creative
teams fell victim to the tightly controlled campaigns run by party
Surprised at maintaining its huge lead, Labour played safe and scrapped
BMP DDB’s final assault on Major.
The result was pretty bland. Even the words were hardly original. BMP’s
’enough is enough’ was filched from the Australian Liberals. The Tories’
six-week poster blitz, ’Britain is booming, don’t let Labour blow it’,
was a virtual re-run of their slogan for 1959 and 1987.
Fittingly, the adman with the most influence was Philip Gould, Blair’s
strategist and pollster, who oversaw the focus group discussions among
floating voters which shaped Labour’s efforts before and during the
Nowhere was the admen’s loss of power more obvious than in the pleas
Saatchi made to Major when Mawhinney refused to run a string of
anti-Labour ads. Major backed Mawhinney because he was carrying out
orders to avoid personal attacks on Blair.
Mawhinney, in the words of a Tory insider, ’treated Maurice like a
He, along with his aides, believed Saatchi was too big for his boots and
that ’his peerage has gone to his head’.
Saatchi, frustrated that Tory plans to portray Blair as ’a dodgy
salesman’ were never followed through, vented his anger on Mawhinney,
although perhaps it should have been directed at Major.
Mawhinney approved what M&C Saatchi dubbed ’the best ad that never was’,
a plastic mouth with a pair of eyes inside with the slogan: ’What LIES
behind the smile?’ But it was vetoed by Major, who did not want to call
Blair a liar. A few weeks later, however, Major and his ministers did
just that during the row over pensions - to the consternation of M&C
There was more frustration when Major would not sanction the traditional
last-minute press blitz. How M&C Saatchi would have loved to get its
hands on the pounds 800,000 spent by businessmen on pro-Tory ads. To add
to Saatchi’s misery, he wasn’t behind last summer’s ’demon eyes’ ad,
which was produced by his colleagues Jeremy Sinclair and Steve Hilton.
Saatchi opposed it, predicting the row that would follow. The most
memorable ad was cooked up by Michael Heseltine when he sketched Blair
sitting on the knee of the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl.
Tory sources accuse Saatchi of virtually disowning his own ads in an
attempt to avoid blame for the party’s crushing defeat. They insist he
was behind ’Tony and Bill’, a failed attack on the cost of Blair’s
spending plans. Labour’s research showed that most people thought Bill
was the party’s deputy leader. ’New Labour. New Danger’ came, and went,
when the public didn’t see the danger.
The Tories’ problems forced M&C Saatchi into some messy compromises.
An attack on Labour over Europe was watered down by Kenneth Clarke, the
pro-EU former Chancellor. It featured that infamous lion shedding a red
tear. One defeated Tory MP said: ’People asked what we did to make the
The criticism of M&C Saatchi and the rows have put in jeopardy a
client-agency relationship of almost 20 years. But M&C Saatchi sources
say the eruptions were nowhere near the nuclear explosions of 1987, when
Margaret Thatcher commissioned rival ads from Tim Bell, who worked
alongside Saatchi this time. Mawhinney will advise his successor as
party chairman to dismiss M&C Saatchi (Campaign, last week). But Saatchi
is a great survivor - the agency and party split after the 1987 fiasco,
only to reunite in time for the 1992 campaign.
Not all the problems were in the Tory camp. ’Some people at BMP were
pretty demoralised,’ a Labour insider recalls. ’They felt a bit
We went for a lowest common denominator approach to avoid offending
BMP hoped to revive its best ad - showing Major with two faces looking
in different directions, contrasting his words and actions before and
after elections, but Blair ordered Labour advertising to ’remain
positive until polling day’ to capture the moral high ground in the
sterile debate on negative campaigning.
Although BMP first proposed ’Britain deserves better’ last year, other
agencies seem to have suggested it to Labour since. ’It came from many
minds,’ Peter Mandelson, Labour’s campaign manager, says. ’I have had
lots of contact with lots of advertising agencies.’ Although Labour
scrapped its Shadow Communications Agency in 1992 and had hired BMP on a
commercial basis, BMP involved some sympathisers from other shops. Plus
Labour is convinced its caution was justified because voters tell
pollsters they reject ’slagging off’ by the parties. BMP won’t win any
awards but is happy enough to win after two ’brilliant’ defeats. ’The
best of advertising is its effectiveness, not its awards,’ Mandelson
says. ’For the first time in living memory, the Tories’ advertising
bombed.’ He is convinced Major vetoed attacks on Blair because Labour
made such a fuss about the ’demon eyes’ ad. ’We made them lose their
nerve,’ he claims.
Creativity was restricted largely to the party election broadcasts. BMP
won hands down. The Tories effectively vacated the playing field: they
dumped at least two of M&C Saatchi’s broadcasts and ran no less than
three ’talking head’ pleas by an increasingly exhausted Major. ’It
worked once, but was never going to work more than once,’ one senior
Tory admits. In its original form, one party election broadcast revived
the ’demon eyes’ and showed a reluctant Blair being coaxed by a spin
doctor into saying he would cut taxes and attack the trade unions.
It was rejected by Mawhinney. Major’s worst day, according to one aide,
came when Saatchi travelled to Scotland and Major ’tore up’ his party
election broadcast script.
Labour’s broadcasts had some effect. ’In an election where the poster
sloganising between the parties was much of a muchness, TV was the most
impactful route,’ the Labour adman says.
There was a further shift away from press towards posters. The Tories
spent pounds 10.8 million on posters between last summer and polling day
and just pounds 1.9 million on press. Labour spent pounds 5.2 million on
posters and pounds 1.75 million on press. Taking the two parties
together, less than a fifth of the total budget went on press - half the
proportion of the 1992 election, when 60 per cent was allocated to
posters and 40 per cent to press.
The failure of the Tories’ unprecedented ad blitz to prevent a Labour
landslide illustrates the limitation of political advertising. ’This
election demonstrated that you cannot buy the result,’ Chris Powell,
BMP’s chief executive, says.
However, a Tory adman says: ’It wasn’t a proper test of what advertising
can do, because we were constrained.’
But would all of Saatchi’s vetoed ads really have changed the final
It seems advertising can make a small difference in close-run elections,
but is irrelevant when one party is so far ahead. Major was right when
he scrapped a pounds 1 million press blitz for the final week. He knew
it would be money down the drain.
In contrast, Banks Hoggins O’Shea devoted pounds 6.5 million of the
Referendum Party’s budget to press and only pounds 1.2 million to
posters. It was, perhaps, a very expensive exercise for a party which
never had any hope of winning a seat.
But Goldsmith helped put Europe on the map, encouraging the revolt
against the Tory party line. This persuaded Major to highlight Europe
rather than the economy - putting his ad campaign out of kilter with his
The Liberal Democrats, who exceeded their own expectations by winning 46
seats, had a tiny pounds 100,000 ad budget - a mobile Advan and one site
at Vauxhall Cross, depicting Blair and Major as Punch and Judy and then
Tweedledum and Tweedledee. ’We would not have felt comfortable with a
bigger budget,’ Alison Holmes, the Liberal Democrats’ election planning
So perhaps the politicians are starting to realise that advertising is
no panacea. ’Campaigns make little difference, they are just trench
warfare,’ a Labour adman admits. ’I think people made up their minds a
year or 18 months ago; the polls have barely moved since.’
When the history books for 1997 are written, they will support the
theory that elections are won or lost over five years rather than five
CAM # 09:05:97
NEWSMAKERS/ANDY TILLEY, DEREK MORRIS AND IVAN POLLARD: Media dream
team prepares to go independent - BMP credentials unite the trio aiming
to go it alone, Anne-Marie Crawford says
By ANNE-MARIE CRAWFORD
Messrs Tilley, Morris and Pollard have yet to fix a launch date or
a name for their new consultancy. But they’ve got a working title: NAMAG
- Not As Mad As George (that’s Michaelides, in case you were
George Michaelides, renowned for his unorthodox views on media, is the
managing partner of the strategic media consultancy, Michaelides and
Bednash, set up in 1994.
The Morris/Tilley/Pollard outfit wouldn’t mind borrowing Michaelides and
Bednash’s credentials from time to time.
While we’re on the subject of names, I suggest they call the agency PMT,
but they’re one step ahead. ’Yeah, we’ve already thought of that, then
we can take one week off in every four,’ Andy Tilley laughs.
Last month, he announced he was stepping down as managing director of
the media buyer’s buying shop, Zenith Media, to form an independent
Tilley (who was once a senior executive at BMP DDB) jumped, tongues
wagged and pundits began to speculate on which BMP or ex-BMP staffers he
would take with him. Last week, those partners were reluctantly outed:
Derek Morris, managing director of BMP Optimum, and an ex-BMP man, and
Ivan Pollard, now European media director of Wieden and Kennedy
(Campaign, 2 May).
For months the industry had been buzzing with rumours about Tilley’s
dissatisfaction with the route Zenith had chosen. He had wavered before
but had always stayed put - if anything, the departure in January of his
nemesis, Christine Walker, appeared to shore up his position. Then he
dropped his bombshell: Tilley was walking and he wanted company.
Morris has epitomised BMP’s media brand for the past 16 years and, just
last month, he masterminded the hiving off of that department to form
BMP Optimum, together with his colleague of 13 years, Paul Taylor. Why
would Morris turn his back on the challenge of heading a financially
sound and respected dependant for the instability of a start-up?
Then there’s Pollard, arguably the least known of the three. He’s been
off the London scene for two years, but appeared to have a peach of a
job at Wieden and Kennedy in Amsterdam. He’s hugely respected as an
analytical planner and has deployed his skills admirably for the likes
of Nike. Why is he coming back?
The answer is NAMAG or PMT (or whatever) and the vision embodied
therein: to go against the pull of the market; to be wholly independent
and to offer fantastic media solutions to clients.
It sounds like an ethos many a self-respecting media chief would
Morris explains: ’Media men used to do media for creative directors.
Increasingly, media plans are being written for the market - the way the
TV men decide to sell it. We want to offer media solutions to clients.
We want the independence of Michaelides and Bednash, the planning skills
of BMP, New PHD or Motive, the strategic base and flexibility of Red
Spider and the attitude of Andersen Consulting.’
This means getting involved in the strategic process at a very early
stage, finding the right solutions then, at the appropriate stage,
passing the plans on to implementational planners and buyers.
It sounds straightforward but surely problems will come with
surrendering ownership of a project? Not at all, Morris replies: ’We
plan to look for partners from the beginning and work with them. We
don’t want to be aggressive with buyers, we’re not in competition with
them. Nor are we auditors, we’re not finger-waggers offering a second
But won’t there be situations where the buyer is incapable of delivering
the solutions recommended by Morris and pals, who will then be forced
into recommending buyers to clients? ’I suppose there may be cases where
we might recommend a different buyer,’ Morris admits cautiously.
The common thread linking the three men, apart from their BMP pedigree,
is their planning credentials. According to Mandy Pooler, managing
director of the Network, the three form a media ’dream team’. ’I’ve got
profound respect for all of them. What they’re doing is as interesting
as the setting up of PHD,’ she says.
However, she questions the premise that in order to have a brilliant
idea you have to work in a boutique. ’There’s definitely a role for what
they’re doing and there are certain clients and creative agencies that
are seeking more counsel. But I don’t accept it’s a substitute for a
vacuum of intelligent thinking in the big media companies. The one thing
BMP always did brilliantly was top-level thinking combined with
brilliant buying,’ she says.
Tim Cox, now European media director at BBDO who was the media director
at BMP when Tilley, Morris and Pollard were there, is full of praise for
his acolytes. ’They represent the greatest media contribution you can
make: they’re always looking for new and better solutions to old
problems and I think they’ll raise the level of the market.’
But he also wonders a little at their ’ivory-tower’ attitude.
’On balance, I’m surprised by their frustration. Perhaps from my
position I don’t perceive how much the balance has swung towards the
At BMP we always tried to maintain the balance between planning and
buying, not allowing one to dominate,’ Cox explains.
Pollard, however, believes he can see the imbalance more clearly from
his viewpoint outside London. ’I fundamentally believe there’s a massive
hole in the market,’ he argues. ’The emphasis is becoming more focused
on buying and discount. We’re offering a way to re-establish a dialogue
between clients and their media partners. We want to inject creativity
and marketing understanding into the media process. This could also work
the other way round, injecting media into the creative process. It’s
what I’ve been doing here for the past two years.’
Morris’s partner and joint managing director, Paul Taylor, voices no
public doubts. The nature of the parting is such that when he wishes all
three of them ’every success’, you have to believe him.
But, inevitably, Tilley, Morris and Pollard have attracted
There are those who point out their ’unbundled’ approach actually makes
the media process more complicated at a time when clients least want
Others underline the fact that all three have similar skills:
So where’s the element of difference in the new operation and how well
will the egos gel after some time apart?
The individual partners come in for some flak, especially Tilley, whose
critics claim he’s not the planning guru he’s cracked up to be. Morris
hasn’t had hands-on client experience for some time, and Pollard’s been
Inevitably, there will be clients for whom the new agency isn’t
When pushed, none of them will say who their targets are but BT, which
Tilley has long been close to, must be a contender.
Graham Duff, chief executive at Zenith which handles BT’s press buying
and strategic planning, has not ruled out working with Tilley’s new
vehicle at some future stage. And, as Pooler points out, there’s been
big speculation about BT for some time. But she says she’d be ’surprised
if BT worked that way’. So who knows?
This consultancy is not yet a living company or a tangible entity from
which Morris, Taylor and Pollard can take succour. Even now, the legal
niceties are still being thrashed out - Morris jokes the only thing
they’ve decided so far is that the tallest of them will be the chairman
(so that’s Morris sorted for the time being).
The challenge will be to succeed in a market where most media chiefs
will say to clients: ’Why employ these guys when we do your buying and
the planning’s free?’
The venture’s success will depend upon hard work, huge amounts of
talent, a smattering of luck and enough brave clients to believe it can
make a difference.