Labour's 2020 vision brings advertising into focus
A view from Maisie McCabe

Labour's 2020 vision brings advertising into focus

When the TBWA UK chairman and chief creative officer, Peter Souter, addressed a meeting of Labour MPs a couple of weeks ago, he pulled off a tricky task.

He managed to make them laugh. You can’t imagine there is much mirth at such gatherings these days. But with his impersonation of Ed Miliband’s inability to swing his arms when he walked, Souter achieved a conspiratorial giggle. 

Souter was speaking at the launch of Red Shift, a Labour attempt to win back a majority in England, alongside the Saatchi & Saatchi London chief strategy officer, Richard Huntington. Both were there in a personal capacity, but their presence shows some in the party have returned to the idea that the advertising industry might be able to offer them something, after all.

The first of the ten "red shifts" the initiative says are needed for Labour to win in England is to fix its brand – to be clear, bold and proud of its roots. A single agency, elected to be the gatekeeper of the brand, could help do this, Souter said. Labour spoke to at least seven agencies between 2010 and 2015. Electoral Commission figures published last week show its supposed general election agency, Lucky Generals, received no payment from the party at all. TBWA – or TWBA, as it’s listed – earned £55,647 for a youth project.

The ultimate success of the Conservative campaign has been attributed to the party sticking to central planks. The first was the economy and the second the threat of the Scottish National Party, an idea expanded on by M&C Saatchi. The EC figures show that the Tories paid its agency £395,574.69. Not quite the money-spinner of decades past, and including a bit of outsourced production, but not a trifling sum. Especially when compared with the £55,917.60 Creature earned from the Green Party.

Much has been made of the £1.2 million spent by the Conservatives on Facebook – eight times more than the rest of the parties combined – reaching people they knew to be wavering voters in key areas of the country. The Tories also accounted for £312,033.79 of the £313,097.66 spent with Google. Twitter only brought in £7,696.44 from the election, £6,912.39 of which came from the Greens (and none of which from the Tories). 

The Conservatives also used traditional media with precision. They spent £1 million on outdoor through VCCP Media and Posterscope, and £147,737.41 on coverwraps. I understand that the outdoor and coverwraps were all in marginal constituencies. In fact, none of this spend – whether traditional or digital – was blanket. So these figures confirm that once the Tories had defined their core messages, they got them in front of the people with the power to make a difference. Who’d have thought that would be a winning strategy?