Campaign of the Year: Conservative Party

The Tories returned to top advertising form with a brilliantly simple campaign that appealed to voters and the media and blew the Opposition out of the water, writes Tim Mellors chairman and creative director of Mellors Raey.

One campaign dominated 1996 whichever way you look at it. For the amount of media coverage generated, impact on the general public and effectiveness in achieving its aims, it proved difficult to look beyond the Conservative Party's 'demon eyes' campaign through M&C Saatchi.

It was the Labour-inclined staff on Campaign who were among the strongest advocates of 'demon eyes'. Much as one might disagree with the message, there is no argument about the efficacy of its delivery, and that its success provided the Tories with one of the few bright spots in a disastrous year.

Indeed, the campaign may have been born of the desperation that was all too evident in its immediate predecessor, 'yes it worked, yes it hurt'.

Knocking advertising always makes the British uncomfortable, but in the spring, with Labour and Tony Blair both riding high in the polls, Lord Saatchi's agency felt that things were getting out of control.

Immediately the eyes, and the accompanying 'New Labour. New Danger' slogan were unveiled in May, the potential was apparent. Privately, several leading figures in advertising told Campaign that 'the buggers (M&C Saatchi) have done it again'.

The key, as ever with the Conservative Party's best work, lies in its simplicity. With one visual aid, the Tories drew on the public's underlying concerns about Tony Blair: that he smiles too much to be sincere, and that he will do or say anything to be elected. One pithy slogan turned the Labour Party's successfully conveyed positive attribute - that it had changed - into a potential negative.

This simplicity helped what had become a largely hostile media to christen the campaign 'demon eyes' and run with it. The theme could be adapted to fit headlines, trotted out in soundbites, and used, as it subsequently was by Richard Branson and a host of others, to get a similar 'can you trust this man?' message across. In short, the campaign has passed into British popular culture - the language of the street - remarkably quickly.

The pounds 125,000 media spend generated an astonishing pounds 5 million worth of free publicity.

If you are still hostile to the idea of the Tories winning Campaign of the Year, just ask the Labour Party. It was not planning any major advertising last year, partly because it does not have anything like the Tories' resources and was hoping to save its money until closer to polling day. However, the 'demon eyes' work forced it to abandon its bland 'key election pledges' work and respond with 'same old Tories, same old lies'.

Now the Labour Party is planning its own knocking campaign. Whatever the results of that, it is clear that the Tories successfully associated a 'fear factor' with Tony Blair through their advertising. As one Labour adman told Campaign recently: 'We have been blown out of the water.'

The Army, Whiskas and Walkers all featured as strong rival contenders for the Campaign of the Year prize. M&C Saatchi's 'catisfaction' TV and poster work for Whiskas was a genuine breath of fresh air, both in catfood advertising, and because the client, Pedigree Petfoods, is owned by Mars.

As ever, some statistics suggest the campaign has had little impact, others say it is a huge success. Time will tell - it's certainly had a huge popular impact.

It has a long way to go before it reaches the popular appeal of the Gary Lineker Walkers crisps advertising - arguably the nation's favourite.

This year saw the Lineker and Paul Gascoigne spot with Gazza crying, and a second commercial starring Lineker as a nun.

The idea has been consistently extended through the line, right down to the humble shelf-wobbler. For a testament to the success of the advertising, look no further than the launch of a flavour called Salt 'n' Lineker.

BMP DDB's Walkers work is advertising at its best.

So too is the work for the Army, which was this year's runner-up. Saatchi and Saatchi has transformed the strategy in an attempt to make every ad a taste of life in the Army. It's no longer about joining the Army to travel the world and have a laugh, but about challenge and real life.

The commercials, both on TV and radio, involve a series of gripping scenarios and star Army personnel. They include famine relief in Africa and trying to differentiate the sound of friendly and enemy tanks. The print work is equally impressive, particularly the poster campaign shot through the windows of cars in war-torn locations. The Army campaign represents effortless integration, and as such is a model for the industry.

Other impressive campaigns this year included John Smith's, where GGT accomplished the impressive and difficult feat of improving on an already excellent campaign, and three from St Luke's: Boots No 7, which broke the mould of cosmetics advertising and was arguably the year's most original idea, Eurostar with Eric Cantona, and Radio 1, which helped to establish the station's credentials among younger listeners.

We felt Coca-Cola ran a magnificent Euro 96 campaign both with its 'eat football, sleep football, drink Coca-Cola' commercials and the 'if clubs could transfer fans, how much would you be worth?' poster work.

Superdrug also scored highly with its low-budget campaign (although this was too derivative of BMP DDB's Volkswagen dealers' work to win the top prize).

But the 'demon eyes' campaign overshadowed them all. Will it be enough to win the election? Whatever, at least there will now be a fight, and the integrity of Tony Blair's character has been established as one of the battlegrounds.

Recent winners: Miller Pilsner (1995); Wonderbra (1994); Boddingtons (1993); Tango (1992).

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