Dad would come home from work, Mum would put his tea (dinner to us) in the oven to stay warm. Then they’d go to the polls together.
Mum would vote Labour, Dad would vote Conservative. Then they’d come home and Mum would get Dad’s tea up. There were no big political confrontations. They were just exercising their right, and fulfilling their obligation, to vote.
I was always told, "People fought a war for our right to vote." So what mattered was that they voted, not how they voted. That was their right.
That was just a healthy difference of opinion. Mind you, this was in the days before media pundits decided differing political views were fundamentally incompatible. In the world before planners and marketing departments.
Nowadays that would be a household made up of two representatives of opposite, mutually incompatible, hostile psychographic groups. But Mum and Dad, being ordinary people, didn’t know they were supposed to behave like that. So they didn’t.
Them and millions of others. They voted and that was that. That’s what people do, that’s how they live their lives. They don’t do things according to the tramlines media gurus lay down.
They don’t stay within the boxes we’ve got them in. They don’t think and act the way we think they should. That’s what free will is.
I was discussing this with Ken Livingstone once. We’d just finished doing an anti Third World Debt commercial. We were talking about Margaret Thatcher as the only politician that understood the working class. Ken agreed, being working class himself he knew what I meant.
The Labour party had become the party of the Left. That’s not the same as the working class. I told him that my mum had voted Labour ever since she’d been old enough to vote, in the 1920s.
Then in 1984, after my dad died, she went to vote on her own. I said to her, "I suppose you voted Labour as usual?" She said, "No, I voted Conservative."
I was gobsmacked after over 50 years of voting Labour. I asked Mum why she’d done that. She said, "Did you see that old man on TV on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph, wearing a donkey jacket? At least Mrs Thatcher showed the proper respect and dressed smartly." Ken Livingstone sat there shaking his head, saying, "I know, I know, poor Michael never understood the working class. He thought he was showing solidarity with them."
People don’t do what they’re supposed to do. The working class don’t do what The Guardian thinks they should do. They vote with their hearts not their heads.
Because that’s what we all do. When we media professionals strategise about advertising, it’s rational and logical, as if all people will behave according to our plans. Then, when we leave the office, we become consumers and do exactly what our emotions tell us we should do. That’s why it’s our job to excite people, not to try to herd them.
We have to make a case in the simplest, most memorable, way we can. Then get out of the way. There’s security in hiding behind long words and convoluted thinking, but no real power. We have to go beyond the complicated to get to the simple.
Over 2,000 years ago, Democritus said, "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited."
People, all of us, are simpler than we want to believe. Advertising, all of it, is simpler than we want it to be. I’m convinced, in communication, simplicity is power.
But three of my heroes: Brian Clough, Bill Bernbach, and Ron Greenwood, all felt even more strongly. They all said, "Simplicity is genius."