Opinion: Mills on ... Labour

As the editor of Campaign, I used to get my fair share of letters from Agency X accusing Agency Y of ripping off its work. A copy of the offending ad, together with the original, would helpfully be attached.

As often as not, these things turned out to be a storm in a teacup. A microscope was sometimes necessary to spot the offence. Perhaps the endline would express a similar sentiment. Perhaps the visual - often a stock photo - would be the same. Maybe it was an alternative expression of the same idea.

At the beginning, I used to get quite excited. You can't beat a good "row" story. Over time, though, I became bored with the whole syndrome.

Would the punter even notice? If they did, would they care? And so what, if Client A was a biscuit brand and Client B a regional health club? Anyway, I would think, they should try being a journalist, a business where feature ideas are regularly ripped off and news stories passed off as someone else's exclusive without a backward glance or the merest hint of conscience.

Journalism, like advertising, is a jackdaw business. Quit whingeing.

So the notion that the Tories should accuse TBWA\London of no less an offence than "stealing" - as opposed to, say, "borrowing" or "hommaging" - Saatchi & Saatchi's "Britain is great again. Don't let Labour wreck it" 1987 poster cuts absolutely no ice with me. And nor, I suspect, will it with the electorate who, I'm sure, even if they recognise or remember the original, couldn't give a monkey's. So, yes, it is a rip-off/tribute/hommage, but so what?

Methinks the Tories doth protest too much. Far better to say nothing, for their squeals of outrage suggest that the poster has hit home. For all the impressive start made by Michael Howard, there is no doubt that the poster zeroes in on what is an undoubted Tory weakness. Howard's recent antecedents are a decidedly rum lot. Forget John Major and Margaret Thatcher for a moment. History has not treated them especially kindly. Focus instead on the more recent past. Could you trust a party capable of choosing, even only temporarily, the likes of William Hague or Ian Duncan Smith as putative prime ministers? So the message is: even if Howard is credible, the rest of them aren't.

Equally, however, the poster reveals that Labour is running scared too.

Why bother to attack Howard unless you think he is a real threat? The danger for Labour is that by acknowledging Howard, they are implicitly admitting that he is a credible opponent. It would be far better, perhaps, to ignore him than to attack him.

It is fashionable among the chatterati to decry the influence of advertising on politics, claiming it reduces it to the level of baked bean selling - the suggestion being that there is no lower form of life. Au contraire. If only baked bean selling could learn something from political advertising. The best political ads - such as the Tories' "double whammy" stuff from 1992 and 1997's "demon eyes", as well as Labour's Hague/Thatcher clone ads from 2001 - can teach us all lessons in simplicity and directness. That's the beauty of the poster medium. And the logo doesn't have to be too big either.

A special word, however, for the copywriting in the current Labour poster.

The particular genius is in the use of the word "again". While the original Tory poster used the phrase "Britain is great again" as an unsubtle boast, the Labour poster uses the word as a stick to beat the Tories, cunningly suggesting that they are serial wreckers of the economy, thus brilliantly stealing the Tories' clothes as well as subverting the infamous "Labour isn't working" poster from 1979. That's not just robbery, it's robbery with violence in daylight. Ouch.

Claire Beale is away

Dead cert for a Pencil? Politics? Surely not.

File under ... C for cheeky.

What would Cherie say? "I hear Gordon's got a version that says 'Don't

let Tony wreck it'."


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