Ad agency M&C Saatchi were back, appointed by the Conservative Part to steer the party’s and David Cameron’s advertising campaign. The old Saatchi and Saatchi team are of course famous for the advertisement for Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 Conservative Party campaign, “Labour isn’t working” which some argue won the Tories the election. In the 1987 election it is alleged that Thatcher spent £3 million in the last four days of the campaign.
Did the 2010 campaign produce any memorable advertising though? Both the Tories and Labour resorted to spoofs and old clichés. Did anyone notice the Liberal Democrat campaign? No one could ever have envisaged the resulting Lib –Con alliance, but how far can the parties go in the advertising battle to win the voters? The advertising codes of practice (known as the CAP and BCAP rules enforced by the ASA, Advertising Standards Agency) require all advertisements to be legal, decent, honest, and truthful but MPs argued that the Codes ought not to apply to political advertising for elections.
The argument is that it is inappropriate for the ASA, as a non-elected body, to intervene in the democratic process; that ASA rulings would have little practical value because the complex issues involved meant that rulings would probably be made after election day; that ASA adjudications would come within the arena of political debate; and that party political advertisements are always subject to a disproportionate amount of media scrutiny.
Perhaps a lot of disillusioned readers will be unsurprised that Codes – which apply to all other advertisers – do not apply to our politicians, but that does not mean mistakes have not been made in the past or that no rules exist at all.
Political parties are not permitted to advertise on television, save for the party political broadcasts. In addition the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group produced guidelines that the parties must adhere to. Unsurprisingly TV commercials have to be legal and not infringe any copyright or other intellectual property rights and they must comply with the Ofcom broadcast Codes, but crucially accuracy remains a matter for the parties.
In non broadcast media and the internet political ads are unrestricted and political parties are keen to get their messages across as vocally as possible. Though the days of many bill boards being plastered across the country with political advertising are probably over, (because the rules on media owners providing free space to political parties has been made illegal), the rise in the importance of the internet was tipped to outstrip the importance of the outdoor medium. That did not really transpire but as well as the party website all the party leaders have their own blogs and micro sites, and there is still a risk that an edgy campaign can back fire.
The now infamous “Demon Eyes” adverts featuring Tony Blair with demon eyes only appeared in three newspapers but the advertisements were condemned by the church and the Advertising Standards Agency banned the image. Voters claim to despise negative political advertising but it works, especially with younger voters.
The May 2010 election started off in that vein, with the Tories using a beaming Gordon Brown (itself a rather frightening sight) and the words “I let out 800,000 criminals early, vote for me.” While the Guardian described Labour’s five pledges on a sunny background of a field of ripening corn as “having all the boldness of a muesli advert.” Then again the photo shopped image of David Cameron was not a resounding success either and led to a plethora of graffiti and spoof versions that were far from kind depicting images of Cameron and superimposed words such as “government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich.” The campaigns did not end on a high note either with no party producing anything particularly memorable. Maybe it’s not surprising all the ads look the same, so do the parties, perhaps now more than ever.