ON HAVING A DOG AND BARKING YOURSELF
In 1979 my art director, Mike Reynolds, and I drove into Downing Street.
Mike had a VW Campervan and we parked it opposite number ten.
You could in those days.
Tourists were taking photos of us as if we were important.
It was Saturday morning and a policeman let us in.
We were there for the advertising think-tank.
What everyone forgets is that until 1979 political parties in the UK didn’t use advertising agencies.
It was seen as a cheap American gimmick.
Unsavoury, to be selling politicians like packets of soap powder.
So political parties never had advertising agencies.
But they knew they needed some sort of publicity.
So they would do posters and Party Political Broadcasts (PPBs).
The posters were traditionally a photograph of the candidate and the slogan underneath.
The PPBs were just 10 minutes films of the candidate talking to camera.
Both were boring and immediately forgettable.
Then in 1979, Maggie Thatcher hired Saatchi & Saatchi.
Before that, having to pay an advertising agency was seen as hiring mercenaries who’d work for anyone.
That’s why the Labour party still only used volunteers.
People who offered their services for free because they sympathised with the cause.
And that’s how we came to be sitting in number ten on a Saturday morning.
We volunteered to work on Labour’s re-election campaign.
But as volunteers we were part of a motley group of suppliers.
We weren’t considered valued advisors.
We were told to drop off our work and the think-tank would look at it.
Which they eventually did, presumably.
But the problem with the think-tank was it was composed of career politicians.
People who knew every detail of every speech that had ever been made at every Labour conference.
Unlike the voters.
We understood that most voters didn’t know or care.
It was our job to make them care.
Keep it simple and powerful.
But of course, everything simple and powerful was crossed out by the think-tank.
And replaced with details that only the career politicians cared about.
So, when the advertising ran, they were talking to themselves.
Contrast that with Saatchi’s relationship with Thatcher.
Tim Bell took along the poster “LABOUR ISN’T WORKING”.
He didn’t show it to a think-tank, he showed it to Thatcher.
She said she didn’t like it.
She said LABOUR at the top of the poster was far larger than Conservative at the bottom.
Tim Bell explained that was the point.
Give people a reason to vote against Labour.
She said “Well, I suppose you’re the professional. Go ahead.”
And one of the most powerful political posters ever, ran on sites all over the country.
Labour’s poster also ran on sites all over the country.
It had a picture of the Labour PM and a Labour slogan.
Approved by the think-tank and completely forgettable.
And that was the difference.
Labour had a think tank.
Thatcher had a professional director of publicity.
He was the man who appointed Saatchi & Saatchi.
Throughout the election, his mantra was: “You have to appeal to ordinary voters who are not very interested in politics.”
Everyone in advertising could learn from that advice.
Just replace the word ‘voters’ with ‘people’ and the word ‘politics’ with ‘brands’.