Editorial: Using new ways to talk is key to win voters back

It may seem odd at first that Britain's main political parties should be abandoning outdoor advertising at a time when the medium is enjoying a renaissance. But then Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have never used the medium as other advertisers do.

They pour hundreds of thousands of pounds into it once every four years, while virtually ignoring it at other times; they use posters to disparage each other in such a way that, were they selling soap powder, they would be up before the Advertising Standards Authority; they are often more interested in creating a poster not as an instrument of persuasion across towns and cities but as a free "commercial", provided TV news bulletins can be persuaded to pick up on it.

It's worth recalling that Saatchi & Saatchi's "Labour isn't working" poster appeared on a relatively small number of sites before the 1979 general election. It was only when Labour fell into the trap of publicly condemning it that it turned into one of Britain's most famous political posters.

Since then, the communications landscape has changed (and public attitudes along with it). The verdict of a Government-ordered inquiry that poster blitzes are a waste of cash just adds credibility to what has long been obvious. Most voters don't like an aggressive "in-your-face" approach with which this advertising is synonymous. It just increases their cynicism and apathy about politics.

Nor is the claim that posters serve as a morale-booster to party workers at election time sustainable any more. New communication channels now allow the parties to connect with their supporters and activists in a more personal way.

That's not to say we won't miss political posters. They have long been an integral part of the UK ad scene and their "no-holds-barred" style can provoke mirth and anger, depending on one's political hue. But the world moves on.

Today, getting to grips with new forms of communication is essential. How else are Messrs Brown, Cameron and Campbell going to win back the thousands of teens and twentysomethings for whom politics is a total turn-off?

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