ELECTION ANALYSIS: The ad campaign that got away

Judging by the advertising that came out of this year’s general election campaign, there was no doubt the politicians were in the driving seat.

Judging by the advertising that came out of this year’s general

election campaign, there was no doubt the politicians were in the

driving seat.

Admen in both parties had to grit their teeth as their proposals were

left on the shelf.

Throughout the election campaign, the relationship between Maurice

Saatchi and the Conservative Party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, had been


’Where are the ads?

These won’t do - get some different ones,’ Mawhinney barked at Saatchi

during one of their many bitter exchanges. ’You have your marching

orders,’ he had also warned.

In 1992, Saatchi had been much more influential because John Major was

still finding his feet as an election campaigner. Left-wingers accused

Labour of sub-contracting its campaign to anonymous advertising men. In

1997, by contrast, the politicians were firmly in control.

Paradoxically, last week’s election should have been a high-water mark

for advertising. The Tories’ pounds 12.7 million budget and Labour’s

pounds 7.6 million kitty dwarfed anything they had spent before, while

Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party swelled the total spend by pounds

7.7 million. The combined spend of pounds 28 million since last summer

might never be beaten; Tony Blair’s Labour Government may restrict each

party’s national spending on elections to pounds 10 million under new

rules on party funding.

But despite the big budgets, there were few memorable ads as creative

teams fell victim to the tightly controlled campaigns run by party


Surprised at maintaining its huge lead, Labour played safe and scrapped

BMP DDB’s final assault on Major.

The result was pretty bland. Even the words were hardly original. BMP’s

’enough is enough’ was filched from the Australian Liberals. The Tories’

six-week poster blitz, ’Britain is booming, don’t let Labour blow it’,

was a virtual re-run of their slogan for 1959 and 1987.

Fittingly, the adman with the most influence was Philip Gould, Blair’s

strategist and pollster, who oversaw the focus group discussions among

floating voters which shaped Labour’s efforts before and during the


Nowhere was the admen’s loss of power more obvious than in the pleas

Saatchi made to Major when Mawhinney refused to run a string of

anti-Labour ads. Major backed Mawhinney because he was carrying out

orders to avoid personal attacks on Blair.

Mawhinney, in the words of a Tory insider, ’treated Maurice like a


He, along with his aides, believed Saatchi was too big for his boots and

that ’his peerage has gone to his head’.

Saatchi, frustrated that Tory plans to portray Blair as ’a dodgy

salesman’ were never followed through, vented his anger on Mawhinney,

although perhaps it should have been directed at Major.

Mawhinney approved what M&C Saatchi dubbed ’the best ad that never was’,

a plastic mouth with a pair of eyes inside with the slogan: ’What LIES

behind the smile?’ But it was vetoed by Major, who did not want to call

Blair a liar. A few weeks later, however, Major and his ministers did

just that during the row over pensions - to the consternation of M&C


There was more frustration when Major would not sanction the traditional

last-minute press blitz. How M&C Saatchi would have loved to get its

hands on the pounds 800,000 spent by businessmen on pro-Tory ads. To add

to Saatchi’s misery, he wasn’t behind last summer’s ’demon eyes’ ad,

which was produced by his colleagues Jeremy Sinclair and Steve Hilton.

Saatchi opposed it, predicting the row that would follow. The most

memorable ad was cooked up by Michael Heseltine when he sketched Blair

sitting on the knee of the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl.

Tory sources accuse Saatchi of virtually disowning his own ads in an

attempt to avoid blame for the party’s crushing defeat. They insist he

was behind ’Tony and Bill’, a failed attack on the cost of Blair’s

spending plans. Labour’s research showed that most people thought Bill

was the party’s deputy leader. ’New Labour. New Danger’ came, and went,

when the public didn’t see the danger.

The Tories’ problems forced M&C Saatchi into some messy compromises.

An attack on Labour over Europe was watered down by Kenneth Clarke, the

pro-EU former Chancellor. It featured that infamous lion shedding a red

tear. One defeated Tory MP said: ’People asked what we did to make the

lion cry.’

The criticism of M&C Saatchi and the rows have put in jeopardy a

client-agency relationship of almost 20 years. But M&C Saatchi sources

say the eruptions were nowhere near the nuclear explosions of 1987, when

Margaret Thatcher commissioned rival ads from Tim Bell, who worked

alongside Saatchi this time. Mawhinney will advise his successor as

party chairman to dismiss M&C Saatchi (Campaign, last week). But Saatchi

is a great survivor - the agency and party split after the 1987 fiasco,

only to reunite in time for the 1992 campaign.

Not all the problems were in the Tory camp. ’Some people at BMP were

pretty demoralised,’ a Labour insider recalls. ’They felt a bit


We went for a lowest common denominator approach to avoid offending


BMP hoped to revive its best ad - showing Major with two faces looking

in different directions, contrasting his words and actions before and

after elections, but Blair ordered Labour advertising to ’remain

positive until polling day’ to capture the moral high ground in the

sterile debate on negative campaigning.

Although BMP first proposed ’Britain deserves better’ last year, other

agencies seem to have suggested it to Labour since. ’It came from many

minds,’ Peter Mandelson, Labour’s campaign manager, says. ’I have had

lots of contact with lots of advertising agencies.’ Although Labour

scrapped its Shadow Communications Agency in 1992 and had hired BMP on a

commercial basis, BMP involved some sympathisers from other shops. Plus

ca change.

Labour is convinced its caution was justified because voters tell

pollsters they reject ’slagging off’ by the parties. BMP won’t win any

awards but is happy enough to win after two ’brilliant’ defeats. ’The

best of advertising is its effectiveness, not its awards,’ Mandelson

says. ’For the first time in living memory, the Tories’ advertising

bombed.’ He is convinced Major vetoed attacks on Blair because Labour

made such a fuss about the ’demon eyes’ ad. ’We made them lose their

nerve,’ he claims.

Creativity was restricted largely to the party election broadcasts. BMP

won hands down. The Tories effectively vacated the playing field: they

dumped at least two of M&C Saatchi’s broadcasts and ran no less than

three ’talking head’ pleas by an increasingly exhausted Major. ’It

worked once, but was never going to work more than once,’ one senior

Tory admits. In its original form, one party election broadcast revived

the ’demon eyes’ and showed a reluctant Blair being coaxed by a spin

doctor into saying he would cut taxes and attack the trade unions.

It was rejected by Mawhinney. Major’s worst day, according to one aide,

came when Saatchi travelled to Scotland and Major ’tore up’ his party

election broadcast script.

Labour’s broadcasts had some effect. ’In an election where the poster

sloganising between the parties was much of a muchness, TV was the most

impactful route,’ the Labour adman says.

There was a further shift away from press towards posters. The Tories

spent pounds 10.8 million on posters between last summer and polling day

and just pounds 1.9 million on press. Labour spent pounds 5.2 million on

posters and pounds 1.75 million on press. Taking the two parties

together, less than a fifth of the total budget went on press - half the

proportion of the 1992 election, when 60 per cent was allocated to

posters and 40 per cent to press.

The failure of the Tories’ unprecedented ad blitz to prevent a Labour

landslide illustrates the limitation of political advertising. ’This

election demonstrated that you cannot buy the result,’ Chris Powell,

BMP’s chief executive, says.

However, a Tory adman says: ’It wasn’t a proper test of what advertising

can do, because we were constrained.’

But would all of Saatchi’s vetoed ads really have changed the final


It seems advertising can make a small difference in close-run elections,

but is irrelevant when one party is so far ahead. Major was right when

he scrapped a pounds 1 million press blitz for the final week. He knew

it would be money down the drain.

In contrast, Banks Hoggins O’Shea devoted pounds 6.5 million of the

Referendum Party’s budget to press and only pounds 1.2 million to

posters. It was, perhaps, a very expensive exercise for a party which

never had any hope of winning a seat.

But Goldsmith helped put Europe on the map, encouraging the revolt

against the Tory party line. This persuaded Major to highlight Europe

rather than the economy - putting his ad campaign out of kilter with his

election effort.

The Liberal Democrats, who exceeded their own expectations by winning 46

seats, had a tiny pounds 100,000 ad budget - a mobile Advan and one site

at Vauxhall Cross, depicting Blair and Major as Punch and Judy and then

Tweedledum and Tweedledee. ’We would not have felt comfortable with a

bigger budget,’ Alison Holmes, the Liberal Democrats’ election planning

manager, says.

So perhaps the politicians are starting to realise that advertising is

no panacea. ’Campaigns make little difference, they are just trench

warfare,’ a Labour adman admits. ’I think people made up their minds a

year or 18 months ago; the polls have barely moved since.’

When the history books for 1997 are written, they will support the

theory that elections are won or lost over five years rather than five



CAM # 09:05:97


team prepares to go independent - BMP credentials unite the trio aiming

to go it alone, Anne-Marie Crawford says





Photograph (omitted)

Messrs Tilley, Morris and Pollard have yet to fix a launch date or

a name for their new consultancy. But they’ve got a working title: NAMAG

- Not As Mad As George (that’s Michaelides, in case you were


George Michaelides, renowned for his unorthodox views on media, is the

managing partner of the strategic media consultancy, Michaelides and

Bednash, set up in 1994.

The Morris/Tilley/Pollard outfit wouldn’t mind borrowing Michaelides and

Bednash’s credentials from time to time.

While we’re on the subject of names, I suggest they call the agency PMT,

but they’re one step ahead. ’Yeah, we’ve already thought of that, then

we can take one week off in every four,’ Andy Tilley laughs.

Last month, he announced he was stepping down as managing director of

the media buyer’s buying shop, Zenith Media, to form an independent

communications consultancy.

Tilley (who was once a senior executive at BMP DDB) jumped, tongues

wagged and pundits began to speculate on which BMP or ex-BMP staffers he

would take with him. Last week, those partners were reluctantly outed:

Derek Morris, managing director of BMP Optimum, and an ex-BMP man, and

Ivan Pollard, now European media director of Wieden and Kennedy

(Campaign, 2 May).

For months the industry had been buzzing with rumours about Tilley’s

dissatisfaction with the route Zenith had chosen. He had wavered before

but had always stayed put - if anything, the departure in January of his

nemesis, Christine Walker, appeared to shore up his position. Then he

dropped his bombshell: Tilley was walking and he wanted company.

Morris has epitomised BMP’s media brand for the past 16 years and, just

last month, he masterminded the hiving off of that department to form

BMP Optimum, together with his colleague of 13 years, Paul Taylor. Why

would Morris turn his back on the challenge of heading a financially

sound and respected dependant for the instability of a start-up?

Then there’s Pollard, arguably the least known of the three. He’s been

off the London scene for two years, but appeared to have a peach of a

job at Wieden and Kennedy in Amsterdam. He’s hugely respected as an

analytical planner and has deployed his skills admirably for the likes

of Nike. Why is he coming back?

The answer is NAMAG or PMT (or whatever) and the vision embodied

therein: to go against the pull of the market; to be wholly independent

and to offer fantastic media solutions to clients.

It sounds like an ethos many a self-respecting media chief would


Morris explains: ’Media men used to do media for creative directors.

Increasingly, media plans are being written for the market - the way the

TV men decide to sell it. We want to offer media solutions to clients.

We want the independence of Michaelides and Bednash, the planning skills

of BMP, New PHD or Motive, the strategic base and flexibility of Red

Spider and the attitude of Andersen Consulting.’

This means getting involved in the strategic process at a very early

stage, finding the right solutions then, at the appropriate stage,

passing the plans on to implementational planners and buyers.

It sounds straightforward but surely problems will come with

surrendering ownership of a project? Not at all, Morris replies: ’We

plan to look for partners from the beginning and work with them. We

don’t want to be aggressive with buyers, we’re not in competition with

them. Nor are we auditors, we’re not finger-waggers offering a second


But won’t there be situations where the buyer is incapable of delivering

the solutions recommended by Morris and pals, who will then be forced

into recommending buyers to clients? ’I suppose there may be cases where

we might recommend a different buyer,’ Morris admits cautiously.

The common thread linking the three men, apart from their BMP pedigree,

is their planning credentials. According to Mandy Pooler, managing

director of the Network, the three form a media ’dream team’. ’I’ve got

profound respect for all of them. What they’re doing is as interesting

as the setting up of PHD,’ she says.

However, she questions the premise that in order to have a brilliant

idea you have to work in a boutique. ’There’s definitely a role for what

they’re doing and there are certain clients and creative agencies that

are seeking more counsel. But I don’t accept it’s a substitute for a

vacuum of intelligent thinking in the big media companies. The one thing

BMP always did brilliantly was top-level thinking combined with

brilliant buying,’ she says.

Tim Cox, now European media director at BBDO who was the media director

at BMP when Tilley, Morris and Pollard were there, is full of praise for

his acolytes. ’They represent the greatest media contribution you can

make: they’re always looking for new and better solutions to old

problems and I think they’ll raise the level of the market.’

But he also wonders a little at their ’ivory-tower’ attitude.

’On balance, I’m surprised by their frustration. Perhaps from my

position I don’t perceive how much the balance has swung towards the

buying side.

At BMP we always tried to maintain the balance between planning and

buying, not allowing one to dominate,’ Cox explains.

Pollard, however, believes he can see the imbalance more clearly from

his viewpoint outside London. ’I fundamentally believe there’s a massive

hole in the market,’ he argues. ’The emphasis is becoming more focused

on buying and discount. We’re offering a way to re-establish a dialogue

between clients and their media partners. We want to inject creativity

and marketing understanding into the media process. This could also work

the other way round, injecting media into the creative process. It’s

what I’ve been doing here for the past two years.’

Morris’s partner and joint managing director, Paul Taylor, voices no

public doubts. The nature of the parting is such that when he wishes all

three of them ’every success’, you have to believe him.

But, inevitably, Tilley, Morris and Pollard have attracted


There are those who point out their ’unbundled’ approach actually makes

the media process more complicated at a time when clients least want


Others underline the fact that all three have similar skills:


So where’s the element of difference in the new operation and how well

will the egos gel after some time apart?

The individual partners come in for some flak, especially Tilley, whose

critics claim he’s not the planning guru he’s cracked up to be. Morris

hasn’t had hands-on client experience for some time, and Pollard’s been

in Holland.

Inevitably, there will be clients for whom the new agency isn’t


When pushed, none of them will say who their targets are but BT, which

Tilley has long been close to, must be a contender.

Graham Duff, chief executive at Zenith which handles BT’s press buying

and strategic planning, has not ruled out working with Tilley’s new

vehicle at some future stage. And, as Pooler points out, there’s been

big speculation about BT for some time. But she says she’d be ’surprised

if BT worked that way’. So who knows?

This consultancy is not yet a living company or a tangible entity from

which Morris, Taylor and Pollard can take succour. Even now, the legal

niceties are still being thrashed out - Morris jokes the only thing

they’ve decided so far is that the tallest of them will be the chairman

(so that’s Morris sorted for the time being).

The challenge will be to succeed in a market where most media chiefs

will say to clients: ’Why employ these guys when we do your buying and

the planning’s free?’

The venture’s success will depend upon hard work, huge amounts of

talent, a smattering of luck and enough brave clients to believe it can

make a difference.

Perspective, p21.