Close-Up: Vote-winners or a political embarrassment?

After an election campaign that's been dominated by mudslinging, spoofs and an obsession with new platforms, a cross-section of voters reveal in our mini poll which party's advertising swayed them.

- Sir John Hegarty, worldwide creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

What started out as a boring and rather predictable election campaign has turned out to be a lot more exciting.

Not because any one party has managed, through its communication, to land a knockout punch. But through the value and power of broadcast - that communication tool so derided by the digital evangelists.

I genuinely hoped this would be a different election campaign. One driven by the lessons of the US Obama election. A campaign that galvanised interest through the creative use of digital media.

Far from it. It wasn't until the leadership debates, watched by ten million people, that suddenly the race caught fire. The Liberal Democrats blew the election apart with their appeal for change. Suddenly, the two big parties were attacking the wrong candidate.

The old assumptions were turned on their head and their campaigns were too.

The Conservative campaign "vote for change" was looking more like an inducement to vote Lib Dem. As usual with politics, they forgot the first fundamental rule of marketing. Tell the truth. If your party is called the Conservatives, "vote for change" doesn't sit too well. It worked for Obama because everything about Obama reeked of change. A bunch of old Etonians doesn't exactly underline that positioning.

Meanwhile, the Labour campaign is stuck with one major problem. A problem they haven't faced up to. After 13 years in office, they're fighting failure and fighting with a brand spokesman who is seriously unpopular. If I hear one more time that Gordon's learnt to listen, I think I will throw up.

"We screwed it up but, honestly, we've learnt our lesson and, honestly, we can put it right." Oh, really? As soon as someone uses the honest word, you know they're in trouble.

The Liberal Democrats campaign has included an online fictional political party - The Labservatives - which aims to show the main two parties as interchangeable. Fine for a protest vote but it's not hammering their policies home. Making the complicated simple is the genius of our business. A lesson sadly this party has yet to learn.

But I think none of this matters. The real lesson of this election is the failure of the communications industry to demonstrate its value. Where is the iconic thought or visual that transcends marketing to become the badge for the whole campaign as we've seen in past elections? The one that simplifies and cuts through all the rhetoric? The real hero is the X Factor broadcast phenomenon. It's really reminded us that television has the power, when presented with some originality, to change the way we feel. Now we have to see if we take that change into the ballot box.

- Alex Bowen, global analyst, 32

I've seen the Tory print campaign move from Cameron-centric earnestness to the ridicule of Brown. For me, the combination of patrician benevolence and lack of substance fails.

In the anti-Brown campaign, the attack: a) feels desperate in its personal focus, b) generates sympathy for the PM's physical awkwardness, when he doesn't deserve that to be the focus of my emotion for him, and c) reminds us consistently of parallel Tory failings (recent or old).

The clumsy metaphors of hobnail boots in "boots" and gravestones in "my Tory tombstone" lack subtlety or are offensive. The easy ridicule of the campaign has undermined its gloss and coherence of design and highlighted its absence of distinct policy promises.

This is true of both print campaigns of the other parties. Labour's attack strategy matches the changing face(s) of the Tory campaign in its search for a target and specific charges to level.

Why accidentally suggest to people that the 80s were, like, really cool when there are horror-show totems to invoke from real life? Any Spitting Image cabinet pup-pet would have done. Labour's fear of Cameron as the prime asset is misjudged, shows fear and was farcically implemented. The "CameraOn/CameraOff" campaign is much more effective, but the moment for it passed.

Online, I'm surprised by the range and detail of Labour's presence (there is still a sense of a large project and many contributors) and oddly charmed by the plucky resourcefulness of the Lib Dems ("Labservative" is a naff idea wrapping a good point, but what other political party do you want to pat on the head?).

But I've stared at the Tory sites wondering, with the homepage still in beta, how long a "Big Society", "New Politics", "Democracy 2.0 Reboot" has been in mind? And how it will work when they only update a blog page a couple of times a week?

Cameron talks about the internet the way my gran talks about her DVD player's remote control - mild excitement and some suspicion but no indication of an understanding of what the buttons do.

- Matthew Wallace, medical staffing officer, 21

Having just left university and landed a full-time job, I have begun to take more of an interest in politics - one that goes past trying to make a drinking game out of the US election.

I haven't had the chance to vote before and previously believed that my vote wouldn't make much of a difference to the result. But since the buzz around the televised debates, I'm looking forward to losing my vote virginity this year.

But being somewhat of a political novice, I've had to gather as much knowledge as I can through the media and the parties' campaigns.

The element of the campaigns I've been most familiar with are the poster ads. I'm not much of a fan of these, as it seems both Labour and the Conservatives would rather tell you why not to vote for the other parties than to vote for them.

I am looking for reasons why I need to vote and, anyway, thanks to the parodies of the Conservative posters, I can no longer look at David Cameron without thinking: "Vote Conservative. Or I'll kill this kitten."

The Liberal Democrats have taken a different approach to connecting with voters, creating a spoof party, a cross between Labour and the Conservatives. The website is entertaining enough but I don't feel that it has a strong enough link to the Liberal Democrats and it feels as if it could have been made by any political satirist.

I'm looking for something more contemporary, which is why, in my opinion, there hasn't been a piece of advertising that has connected with me as much as Labour's "brilliant Britain" video by Eddie Izzard. I admit it's a little cheesy, but I can't help being captivated by the passion and conviction of Izzard. And, above all else, he seems to be talking directly to you rather than at you.

Overall, though, none of the main parties has done anything innovative or different to try to pull in my vote, and I still haven't decided which one to vote for during what will be the closest and most exciting election to date. Well, it will be for me.

- Damon Collins, executive creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

General Elections have historically offered more than just empty promises leading to years of disappointment.

We're usually treated to at least one juicy political ad: "Labour isn't working" or "demon eyes".

Iconic lines and images that set the PR tone, give the papers something to spoof and that pass into the public vernacular.

At the time of writing, no such game-changing items seem to have materialised this time around.

We've had, instead, the political equivalent of two nine-year-olds flapping their hands at each other's chests hoping it'll hurt - Labour accusing Cameron of wearing make-up; the Conservatives accusing Brown of lying like Little Britain's Vicky Pollard.

Are the agencies instead, perhaps, focusing their attentions on exciting new platforms that weren't available five years ago? It looks that way.

Labour is hosting its star-studded party political broadcasts and rather charmingly animated non-linear manifesto on its YouTube channel.

The Lib Dems have a quite nice spoof website for the Labservative Party, reminding us all why we're going to vote for a party that's been in power for the past 65 years.

And the Tories appear to be behind a site that allows punters to rewrite and publish their own spoof Conservative posters. Now this is funny. And satisfies an urge that everyone, including Tory voters, must have had from the moment they laid eyes on those "I've never voted Tory" posters. To rip the piss out of them.

All the parties are, as you might expect, Twittered up. Interestingly, the reactionary old Tories seem to be winning the Twit, but no-one's managed to do an Obama yet.

There's been no "Great Schlep". No massive digital campaign that has grabbed the voting public by the virtual nadgers and dragged them into that booth.

Not that that kind of thing is needed any more, of course. No. The past three weeks have changed the role of political advertising forever. Our new live presidential-style leaders' debates offer more insight into our eventual new Prime Minister than any ad in any medium ever could.

Stuff policies, this election ended up being about personalities. And it's hard to hide whether you've got one of those when you're standing there live, on TV, in front of millions of people.

There are many lessons that can be learned from this election.

For agencies, that the debates are the most powerful content we could ever hope for and that advertising in future must be used to strategically bolster them, rather than bleat on about how the opposition wets the bed etc.

For the politicians, that, regardless of ad budget, on live TV everyone is equal in the eyes of the punter and that if you forget to turn your microphone off, no ad in the world can save you.

- Dave Wallace, retired teacher (and no relation to Matthew), 60

Certainly each of the three major parties have employed creativity, but to what effect? Sadly, even in the eyes of this oddball observer, one hopelessly out of touch with the majority in that he actually enthuses about politics, the creativity has been all too often disastrous.

Perhaps not as misguided as the "demon eyes" of 1997, but some of it comes close, unfortunately.

The Conservatives' "I've never voted Tory" campaign is dire; the Lib Dems' "Labservative", as well as being as un-catchy as a catchline can get, destroys a credible message. There's plenty to weep about in the Tories' "vote Conservative, vote for change". How does that work, on any level? Doesn't the word "conservative" have any logical meaning at all any more?

But there are some successes here. The very best is, but, as this targets would-be activists, it probably doesn't belong in the mainstream of electoral persuasiveness, aimed at converting the unconvinced.

It's worth 100, however, of the abysmal Labour spoof It's generally accepted that knocking copy is the refuge of the desperate, and this campaign has been flooded with it - some less disastrous than others. The Conservatives gain here, as well, with their wise refusal to look a gift horse in the mouth. Gordon's smile must be the biggest gift from the gods to Labour's opponents (apart from "bigotgate"), and it is deployed devastatingly in the "do it again" series of posters - a powerful combination of snappy messages and cringe-inducing visuals.

Yet much of the Conservative effort misfires. For example, the crushing boots destroying the delicate green shoot of recovery in "boots". This is surely an own goal since even its worst enemy can't deny the Labour government has thrown squillions of our cash at kick-starting the recovery.

Labour, too, has bombed with dreadful efforts like "my Tory tombstone". And there's a jarring mismatch between the "folksy" (aka dumbed-down) Joe, Jane, Jack, James and Jill Labour manifesto cartoon and the pedestrian humour and patronising graphics, coupled with a seemingly endless bombardment of detailed policy pledges. It just doesn't work. They do much better with the conventional, straight-as-a-die video "the road ahead". Here, a sideswipe at the opposition in the context of your own achievements is much more resonant than the mindless knocking of the mystifyingly ineffective "Quattro" poster.