We need leadership, and not just from politicians
A view from Danny Rogers

We need leadership, and not just from politicians

So the Labour Party is finally getting its act together on the forthcoming general election campaign and is set to appoint an ad agency.

Thanks to spats with the trade unions, money will be a huge challenge for the talented group of communicators that Ed Miliband is putting together. But, arguably, the bigger obstacle will be the dearth of strong messaging emanating from the party’s leadership. In short, where is the vision?

At least they can console themselves that they are not alone. A couple of weeks ago, I bemoaned the general lack of humour in current advertising. One of the UK’s most accomplished advertising planners agreed with me, but extended this critique to a wider lack of bravery in messaging from brands generally. "I am constantly amazed by how little a lot of ads have to say – how insubstantial the messaging can be, especially in financial services," he confides.

One senses the nation is suffering
from a vacuum of leadership. How will post-austerity Britain really be defined?

He has a point. One can understand why the financial services sector presently lacks bravado, but there are many other brands that could and, indeed, should be stronger in their messaging.

In fact, one struggles to think of any good examples recently, with the possible exception of Paddy Power taking a stand on homophobia in sport. And, of course, John Lewis has been a shining beacon in recent years. Let’s hope this Christmas’ campaign matches up.

One can contrast this with advertising in 60s America. The nascent DDB in New York ran groundbreaking campaigns for the bakery Levy’s that broke with the WASP tradition, confronting Jewishness and featuring ethnic minorities. Even the subsequent Avis versus Hertz ad war was brave, with DDB’s ads for the former playing on its plucky "number two" status and Carl Ally’s approach for the latter hitting back patronisingly hard.

For many years on this side of the pond, Virgin Atlantic playfully attacked British Airways, prompting the market leader to respond with some of its strongest work. In the 80s, advertising from BT and One2One changed our views on communicating with one another.

How we yearn for some of this attitude today. One senses the nation is suffering from a vacuum of leadership. How will post-austerity Britain really be defined? Naturally, this is the role of the top politicians. We see an increasingly confident Conservative Party, so it is up to the challenger brand, Labour, to take a leadership stance. What is Miliband’s vision of Britain in 2015 and beyond?

But brands can take a lead too, and their advertising advisors must encourage them to take stronger positions. We have temporarily forgotten that fame and fortune tend to favour the brave.

danny.rogers@haymarket.com
@dannyrogers2001