Election special: ten media moments of the 2010 campaign

LONDON - From airbrushing and bigotgate to Murdoch and Mumsnet, in ten easy steps. Brand Republic rounds up the media moments from this year's general election campaign.

Election special: ten media moments of the 2010 campaign

Airbrush spoofing (mydavidcameron.com)

As David Cameron swaggered into this campaign with the air of a winner it only took the launch of one poster to cut him down to size. Cameron was ridiculed for his photoshopped look, which detractors read as a metaphor for Tory policies.

The Mydavidcameron spoofs spread like wildfire across the internet as hundreds of variations were made. It was the first internet hit of #GE2010.

This was a truly innovative and breakthrough moment and it suggested that the internet and the social web were to play a key role in the election.

It also had serious implications in the David versus Goliath battle of election budgets. Labour with its £8m election budget paled besides the £25m plus in Tory coffers, not to mention the extra cash Lord Ashcroft was putting into marginal seats.

The Mydavidcameron airbrush spoof showed that a little could take on a lot and come out on top. This move evolved as Labour took the work of spoofers and featured it on its website.

Not that it was always a success. We saw how spoofing could backfire, highlighting both the digital innovation that the spoof represented but also its limitations as Labour attempted a UGC campaign using a spoof of 'Ashes to Ashes'. It was the Tory turn to spoof this time firing the ad back at Labour with the line changed to "Fire up the Quattro, it's time for change".

The Mumsnet election

All three main party leaders came to Mumsnet during this campaign giving the site huge sway and publicity.

With almost 1.5 million monthly unique users, Mumsnet and its vote was potentially more important than Facebook or Twitter combined. The parties could present their policies, be they tax breaks for married couples or defending child tax credits, and plead their case to an attentive, interested and engaging audience.

Mumsnet, and sites like it, in one stroke offered the opportunity to leaders and ministers to reach thousands of women in one stroke, a feat that in the real world would take more than a few coffee mornings to achieve.

In the end having joined in merrily with the spoofing of Cameron, creating almost 40 pages dedicated to the airbrush story, Mumsnet came out for Nick Clegg, but not before Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband had all dropped by, following in the footsteps of Gordon Brown and in the process highlighting the real power of online communities.

The TV debates

They may have been governed by a rule book that made the merest snigger from a member of the audience a hanging offence, but the historic first live TV leaders' debates provided, among other things, the first major shock of the campaign.

The emergence of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems as true force in British politics made the election a three-horse race for the first time in decades. It also spawned the first catchphrase to be picked up by the general public, as 'I agree with Nick' headlines, T-Shirts, posters, chants and hash-tagged tweets became a backdrop to the early part of the campaign.

A combined total of almost 25 million people tuned in to ITV, Sky and finally the BBC to watch the leaders, at times, fractious encounters, with the worm, ITV's sentiment gauge, and Spin Alley, as the press pit was dubbed, providing a running commentary on what we were supposed to think about what we saw. They might not have swayed too many floating voters, but it will be hard to see any subsequent elections running without them.

Supplanting of the press by TV

TV in a political sense got something close to a rebirth during the 2010 election. Having been pushed to the sidelines in previous elections as the press dominated the media landscape and set the agenda, the advent of the TV debates changed that.

It has been the TV debates that have provided the newspaper front pages, marginalising to some degree the lead papers traditionally took in setting the agenda.

If the debates do become a permanent part of the political media landscape then try as Rupert Murdoch and The Sun might, the days of "It's The Sun Wot Won It" splashes might have run their course.

Participative TV and social media

What the TV debates also achieved was the co-opting of social media.

Tens of thousands of people took part in the TV debates online - 184,396 tweets were sent first time around and the number stayed high throughout. This was mirrored on Facebook and its Democracy UK page, Albion's Slapometer and countless other participative online ventures.

Social media was in a sense the 626th line running across the screen as people debated across the political spectrum. It was big, but despite early suggestions from some quarters, the moment where it exploded never came.

Political blows were traded and the social media backdrop added something valuable to the TV experience. And while 2010 may not have been the much hyped 'the internet election', from Prescott's Twitter feed to WebSamCam, social media will continue to grow in importance for mainstream politics.

Return of the Attack (advertising)

Euro RSCG was the Tory Party agency at the start of his campaign, but even with its large budget the message wasn't hitting home. Its ads, including two that were well spoofed ("Death tax" and "I've never voted Tory before"), failed to hit the mark and the party called in M&C Saatchi.

The call-up of its old friend, which had delivered such hard-hitting ads in the past (Devil Eyes, Labour isn't Working to name just two), showed the campaign was about to get gritty and the advertising more confrontational in nature (M&C's mantra: "brutal simplicity of thought").

We soon got to see that, with a range of negative ads featuring smiling pictures of Gordon Brown and lines such as "I doubled the national debt. Vote for me". M&C drafted no classics in its short run on the account and even allowed Brown to quip that he owed the Tories a vote of thanks for putting his smiling face on so many billboards. (Where did he make this quip? On one of the TV debates)

But M&C were not alone. Despite the ferocity of the battle of words, the ads never quite lived up to the hype, with neither party producing that crucial, public-resounding message that stuck. 2010 will not go down as a classic from the advertisers.


Prior to the election, it was suggested that somewhere along the axis of terror (for politicians at least) that exists at the collision point of members of the public with video cameras in their pockets and the means to distribute a stolen image or soundbite to millions at the click of a mouse, would make for a defining gaffe in this year's election.

The demon eyes of a bigot - alright maybe not, it's just Gillian Duffy, 'that woman' Gordon Brown vented on.

The demon eyes of a bigot - alright maybe not, it's just Gillian Duffy, 'that woman' Gordon Brown vented on.

As it turned out, it was 'old' media, and a very old school mistake that landed the sitting PM in a studio, head in hands, listening to a 'private' conversation broadcast live on air as he branded poor little old Gillian Duffy a bigot. Memo to self - after recording an interview with a broadcaster, remove the mic before piling into a tirade against the voting public.

Murdoch won't win this election...probably

Having backed Blair on the wave of popular opinion that swept New Labour to power in 97, Murdoch senior (or was it junior and Ms Brooks?) decided it was time for a change.

The Sun's decision to back Cameron was made early, giving a great boost to the Tory campaign. Murdoch clearly hates backing losers and as the polls suggested the gap was narrowing, the paper's support heightened Cameron to God-like status. One only need look at today's front cover of The Sun - Dave, resplendently Obama-fied with the words 'Our only hope' (He's good but he's no Obe-Wan Kenobi) - to see just how far the tabloid will go to get its man.

Not that News International particularly liked having its unwavering, some might say slightly over the top support, pointed out by its peers. The Independent's 'Murdoch won't win this election' covers reportedly had James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks storming the Indy news room armed with sharpened ballot papers threatening death by a thousand cuts to new editor Simon Kelner - at least that's how the story goes...


Oh Nick, what were you thinking? Don't make people believe you're a threat. That can only mean one thing. Actually it can mean a lot of things for the right-wing press looking to put a spoiler on the young upstart.

The Telegraph splashed on dodgy donor payments, The Sun had 'Clegg on his face', The Express went for crazy immigration policies while the Daily Mail came out with a Nazi slur on Britain. All nice and balanced then. That's a relief.

Where did it all go WOM 

The last push by all the main parties has seen full page ads in The Times for the Lib Dems and a YouTube homepage takeover by the Tories - nice sidestep of the rules on TV advertising - but when push comes to shove, and if you happened to be campaigning in Barking, that's literally what it came to - you can't beat a soapbox and few choice words.

Labour got a late surge when Gord finally found his voice in a speech to Citizens UK that proved a YouTube hit, and Cameron defied the sleep gods meeting and greeting on a 36-hour bender of supermarkets, factories and fisheries. Nick had a lie in and then went to Eastbourne. I'm sure he knows what he's doing though.

And finally...

Of course, the defining media moment is yet to come. It won't be the tears of joy or double-dip depression. We are of course talking about the election night TV coverage, and the one thing no election would be complete without - the swimgometer.

As election parties booze and weary campaigners snooze, Vine will be in full swing (de dum), taking us through the umpteen machinations of what might happen with the kind of CGI James Cameron would be proud of.

With the outcome still very much in doubt, tonight's wall-to-HD wall coverage will make for unmissable TV.

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