THE BLOG

How Labour Rewrote General Election Campaign Ad Tactics

16/06/2017 09:04 BST | Updated 16/06/2017 09:04 BST
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The influence of the press over politicians and election results was epitomised by The Sun's notorious 'IT'S THE SUN WOT WON IT' front page headline following the Conservatives' unexpected General Election win in April 1992. A quarter of a century on, and much has changed. The turnaround in Labour's fortunes that contributed to the hung parliament had little to do with tabloid pedantry - or, indeed, traditional General Election campaign ad tactics - and everything to do with carefully curated culture and content.

As the advertising agency briefed by Labour to handle its General Election communications, our starting point was to acknowledge that the role of advertising in election campaigning is changing. In the past, it was enough to come up with an eye-catching ad campaign. Today, however, ads that reiterate an established position struggle to stand out and, as a result, are all too easy to dismiss.

Instead, we took our lead from human behaviour. People spend time with and react to things they are passionate about, even if they don't see themselves as political. So we knew that what was needed was a campaign in which causes that inspire action and the ability to resonate beyond the Newsnight audience took centre stage. The campaign we evolved as a direct result was underpinned by five pillars, or principles: what we call 'The 5Cs'.

The first C is for Corbyn. Where the Tories saw weakness, we saw strength. Jeremy Corbyn is not your typical politician - he's a campaigner, a non-conformist who has long taken on the establishment. He always puts himself on the side of the people and this gives him a different and distinct kind of credibility and appeal. As a result, the support he enjoys from his followers is unlike any other politician's, giving him - and us - license to tap into this to reach new and different audiences in unfamiliar ways. But while his strengths were a key tool for us, this had to be a party campaign, so any thoughts of pursuing a presidential-style campaign were quickly quashed.

The second C is for Cause. If the campaign had stuck to one issue or leadership style, this could have been divisive. But by championing a cause, we could mobilise and unite. And the cause we chose was built from Corbyn and Labour's joint values of fairness with an anti-establishment twist epitomised by the line: 'For the many, not the few'.

Control is the third C - or, rather, lack of it. Because there's only so much you can control, whoever you are. Even if you get agreement on strategy or messaging, control of your narrative can be lost by politicians forgetting numbers, misinformation spread by third parties, and leaks. So the Labour campaign embraced lack of control instead of trying to fight it. And this meant allowing authentic voices inspired by Corbyn to pick up and champion the cause - an approach that evolved the strategy beyond traditional election advertising.

Then there is Collaboration. The idea was that everyone could be a content creator. Official collaborators - like krow and the filmmaker Ken Loach - worked to key themes and messages. Others, mostly unofficial - such as Unite, Unison, Grime4Corbyn, the People's Assembly, Labour party members and ordinary people - picked up and championed the cause with some creating their own content, others sharing or simply liking it.

Last but by no means least, the final C is for Content. By content, I don't just mean ads but cultural content about and inspired by Labour policies and principles. For example, promoting Labour's approach over the approaches of other parties. Or attacking the Tories on their performance and philosophy. Hijacking events - like goading May to debates. Mobilising young people to register and vote. And encouraging 18 to 40 year-old women to get their parents and grandparents to vote for them by voting Labour.

In this way, The 5Cs of Labour's GE2017 communications strategy elevated its approach well-beyond conventional advertising to a place where I now firmly believe it will be impossible in future elections for parties to row back from. As I mentioned earlier, people spend time with and react to things they are passionate about. And when politicians are campaigning on policies that will impact on the lives of every one of us and our friends and families, well, I can't think of anything more worthy of getting passionate about than that.

Matt Watts is Planning Director of krow communications