I recently chatted with friends involved with the Liberal Democrats about how the party communicates to the electorate. Our conversation coincided with this year’s avalanche of Christmas ads and the media circus that surrounds it. One of them joked that the Lib Dems should do a Christmas ad for the election. And I thought it was a genius idea.
Sure, the party hasn’t had £7m to spare or 18 months of planning to do a John Lewis. But it got me thinking that all the political parties could learn a thing or two from big brands.
Ultimately, brands are canvassing for your Christmas votes too. But they don't do this by trudging through the rain knocking on doors or by airing dull, preachy infomercials. They don’t spread fake news or slag each other off on social media. They don't overload you with information or tell you how great they are. Most don't actually try to sell you anything.
They simply create engaging, emotional communications that aim to make you feel something. Although they may have well-targeted sales campaigns to support their blockbuster films, that's not where the battle is won.
So, what would the parties’ Christmas ads be like? And what would they attempt to make you feel?
To set the scene – it’s the final of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here! and we’re attempting to hold back the vomit as Caitlyn Jenner and Andy Whyment gag on kangaroo knob. A few more gags follow as Ant and Dec lol us into a much-needed ad break. Just as the nation rises from a million sofas to stick the kettle on, something very odd grabs everyone’s attention.
A ghostly figure emerges from darkness. Jeremy Corbyn floats eerily above a bloated Boris Johnson lookalike who’s tucked up in bed wearing a nightcap. Boris is rudely awoken by the rattling of a donation tin. Corbyn – aka The Spirit of The People – declares: "You are a wicked, greedy man, Ebenezer Johnson. I’m here to show you the future. A brighter future. A fairer future." Corbyn smiles awkwardly to camera as they both fly out the window to show Boris his vision for Britain.
We end on Boris coming back down to Earth and exulting: "What a fool I have been!" as he runs through the streets raining £50 notes down on the poor. The line "The future’s bright, the future’s red" appears.
Next up, we see rows of happy children singing Christmas carols in the snow. Suddenly, a Tory-blue Challenger 2 tank thunders past. Boris is hanging out of the top, Maggie Thatcher-style, while giving a Churchillian victory salute. His tank rumbles into the Channel Tunnel, followed by a procession of thousands of joyous people representing UK industry.
Concords fly overhead as we cut to a Dad’s Army-style map with arrows representing a post-Brexit trade invasion of Europe and the world. The Empire is back, baby, and Boris is the heroic conqueror. A glittering animation spells out: "Merry Brexit Britain."
Nigel Farage is now on screen dressed as Santa. He’s handing out passports to eastern European children. He smiles menacingly and says: "Be very careful what you wish for this Christmas."
What’s this? The John Lewis Christmas classic "The bear and the hare"? "I love this ad," you think. But something’s wrong. Where are all the animals? And plants? Over a desolate and ravaged landscape, we hear Greta Thunberg taking Lily Allen’s place to sing Somewhere Only We Know. Bear attacks and eats hare. The Green Party logo appears through the carnage.
The nation is still glued to their TVs as a group of trendy millennials and Gen Zs appear on screen. They dance through a bright, modern city centre singing All I Want for Christmas is EU. Jo Swinson jumps to the front to breakdance while Sir Ed Davey spits a tasty Christmas rap. The Lib Dems logo is "graffed" on a wall behind them.
I’m a Celeb… comes back on, but Britain doesn’t hear Ant’s cheeky quip about Dec’s tiny feet. The nation is too busy arguing about who won the Christmas party ad break. Mum and Dad fall out over who "we" are voting for now. The teens are all over the Greens, while Nan and Granddad just can’t decide between Brexit and real Brexit.
And… back in the room. OK, so that may have just been a bit of fun. But there’s clearly a lesson that political parties can take from brands regarding the effective ways they connect with the public. Political parties are brands too. And they need to be stronger. That said, politics can't just be an emotional popularity contest. Too much is at stake. A little more razzmatazz wouldn’t hurt, though.
David Gamble is executive creative director and founding partner at Truant London
Pictures: Getty Images