18/05/2015 09:57 BST | Updated 15/05/2016 06:59 BST

Labour's Epic Fail Viewed Through the Prism of Marketing's Hottest Medium


The Strategy? The Creative? The Director? The Casting? The Research? What Went Wrong For Labour?

Labour's election campaign, deemed a success until 21.59 on May 7th but now regarded as one of the great omni-shambles of all time, has already had the bones picked out of it by legions of self proclaimed experts, many of them marketing types. But if you have been looking for an explanation that applies the criteria of the hottest marketing medium of them all - video - you may have been disappointed. Until now.

The first thing you want when you look to create successful video content is a sound strategy and a good brief. In order to persuade enough of the electorate to vote for them, Labour had to counter negative perceptions and offer new and attractive policies.

They decided to ignore the biggest negative despite the fact that many objective observers agreed they could have plausibly rebuffed arguments that they were to blame for the country's economic ills. Better to be seen as an entirely new team, they decided, than to associate themselves with Gordon Brown's government by trying to defend it.

They also decided to present starkly left wing policies that were easy to package. For example, they promised to abolish the bedroom tax to help council tenants, while introducing the mansion tax to bash the rich. They had calculated that the handful of rich votes they might lose would be colossally outnumbered by the amount of left leaning voters they would clinch. This was part of the '35 per cent strategy' which said that if they could get the core Labour vote out, they could win.

Once the brief is agreed the choice of the right creative talent to answer it is critical. Step forward David Axelrod. (OK you could say Axelrod was the strategist, but he also oversaw the execution). The man who helped Clinton and Obama to the Whitehouse was simply the most celebrated election-winner in the world and hiring him was the equivalent of getting Hollywood's most lauded genius to write and direct your content. What could possibly go wrong?

Next comes casting, the importance of which can never be overstated. Ed Miliband was portrayed as a liability from the moment he beat his brother to the Labour leadership but most agree he performed pretty well during the campaign. Nevertheless, Labour didn't risk putting him in many situations where he could be spontaneous and human even though he tended to do well on the few occasions it happened.

Once you've devised and executed your creative you might be tempted to research it again just to be sure it's going to work. This campaign was rigorously tested daily by all the most respected pollsters in the land and they all said it was working.

Then the sales figures came in.

So what went wrong? Was the strategy flawed? Most commentators now say that targeting a narrow section of voters meant alienating the bulk of the electorate; that Labour were making a Ken Loach film when they should have been making Fast and Furious 8.

The creative talent? Advertising history is littered with examples of big Hollywood directors delivering useless commercials because making an ad or a short piece of content requires different skills. Horses for courses. Perhaps Axelrod was guilty of wrongly assuming that UK voters would behave just like American ones.

And the casting? Audiences want to empathise with the star and by keeping Miliband so tightly stage managed Labour prevented him from making an emotional connection. But there are no guarantees that unshackling him would have made a difference. The legendary commercials director Tony Kaye once told me he could film a bloke reading aloud from the telephone book and it would be utterly compelling. If he got the right bloke.

But none of these decisions would have been taken if they had bombed in research. If you were a conspiracy theorist, you might almost think that the researchers and the pollsters got together to deliberately mislead the lefties.

With hindsight, it is easy to pick holes in the strategy, creative and execution. Understanding why the polls were so rotten is another matter. Labour pollster James Morris now says that their own data was looking grim in the last few days of the campaign. So maybe it was only the poor old public that were misled. Go figure.