Over the last week, Saudi Arabia’s liberal Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Britain, dining with the Queen and meeting Theresa May. This visit was met with protest and counter-protest throughout London’s advertising spaces and got us, well, curious about political advertising, and what makes the great ads great. We’ve picked out three OOH (out of home) ads from the last 50 years of UK politics to have a look at in more detail.
1978: Labour were presiding over an increasingly unpopular government. Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative opposition, was gaining traction in the polls. However, her doctrine was yet to be properly set out and understood in one simple way. This changed with the launch of this ad from Saatchi & Saatchi.
The ad was effective for three reasons: its message was simple and singular, they used the perfect medium for the ad – OOH, and the ad was controversial enough to populate culture. The result: Callaghan delayed calling a General Election, leading to the infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’, after which Thatcher was elected in a landslide. She went on to dominate politics in the UK for over a decade.
1997: Labour had been shut out of power for 18 consecutive years by a Conservative government deeply unpopular across much of the Country, particularly traditionally working-class areas. They realised that in order to win the election they needed to appeal to long-time Conservative middle-class voters. Their solution: New Labour.
Labour needed to stress the difference between not only themselves and the Conservatives, but also between the old and new iterations of the party. They achieved this with this poster; where Blair was the epitome of a new leader. The slogan amplifies this idea – and the design was used throughout the electoral campaign. It was relentlessly positive. The result: Blair won in a landslide, and began 13 years of Labour government.
2016: Britain was facing a landmark referendum on its membership of the EU. The governing Conservative party were split at the seams, with key members supporting both the remain and leave campaigns.
One of the major talking points of the election was a bus, on it written the slogan ‘We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead. Vote Leave’. This battle bus became a symbol of the Leave movement. Whether the slogan on the bus is correct or misleading, it is undeniably memorable. The use of the bus meant that the ad could tour the country and be used as a memorable backdrop for Johnson’s speeches, while it was discussed and debated constantly on the news. Most fundamentally though, this ad was effective as it highlighted a negative, showed an alternative, and proposed a solution. The result: Britain voted to leave the EU. The very next morning Nigel Farage, the most prominent non-Conservative in the campaign, went on ITV breakfast and, among other things, spoke at length about this one bus.
So, what can we take from this? Well, all three of these examples have some things in common; they both have one striking message (whether a slogan or a fact and solution), a striking image (the Dole queue, Tony Blair and the Bus itself) and they helped cause historic political change. It may seem obvious, but it is apparent that when creating advertising for the nuanced, complicated and ever-changing world of politics, simplicity of message and image is paramount.