Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s superb ad for The Guardian last week said it all: Thatcher was the equivalent of Marmite. Not only in the sense that she strongly divided opinion, but because – partly thanks to the Saatchi brothers’ work – she was instantly recognisable and had a simple, focused viewpoint on the world.
From this raw material, the Saatchis created legendary advertising such as the "Labour isn’t working" poster. As the BBH chief executive, Ben Fennell, points out, it demonstrated those "purest of advertising truths: make it simple; make it visual; make it talked about".
We need brands that have a strong core personality, that are consistent in their behaviour, that have a distinctive view
But it was about more than ads. Tim Bell, ultimately a PR man, was central to Thatcher’s success. Her death last week is a stark reminder of how outstanding comms can play a central role in national politics and public life.
Some of the work later done for Tony Blair, by BMP DDB and then Trevor Beattie, came close to hitting Thatcher-style highs and, by now, this was integrated with the polling and PR expertise of Gould, Mandelson, Campbell et al.
As Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s Benedict Pringle points out, political advertising at its best is "punctuation for a political narrative". It emphatically marks the start of a policy, or line of attack. It can act as the final exclamation mark on a victory in public discourse.
Sadly, current politics is devoid of such work. This could well be that we lack the raw material – the conviction politicians with a clear narrative. Put simply: leaders who are prepared to say publicly what they believe to be true and right.
Thankfully, the Saatchi brothers’ work in the 70s and 80s took advertising in a confident new direction. Similarly, commercial brands learned a huge amount from New Labour’s strategic and rigorous approach to marketing in the 90s.
But advertising and comms experts still require that same raw material in the commercial world today. We need brands that have a strong core personality, that are consistent in their behaviour, that have a distinctive view on the world.
Data, dialogue and discourse have rightly become central in today’s marketing lexicon. And while we need brands that listen – a skill that Thatcher sometimes lacked, limiting her time in power – we need clients who are prepared to lead.
The furore over Thatcher’s death shows us one thing: history favours the brave.