Looking back at marketing and the General Election – Where did it all go wrong?


Last night was quite a dramatic change from my usual evening at home. Typically, my nights are spent multitasking, catching up on Pretty Little Liars – no mention of being more than 300 episodes behind fellow teamies at work – while dusting off and ‘Annie Sloan’ painting various pieces of furniture around the house, and also making sure the puppy doesn’t fall into the paint pot. No. Last night was a world away from that, as I attended a fascinating business lecture held by The Marketors. Joined by a panel of professionals, including Professor Paul Baines, Professor Roger Mortimore and Doctor Rachel Lawes, we discussed marketing and the general election – the highs, the lows, the real lows and, well, everything else – very intellectual, I know!

Before I start, if you’re not familiar with The Marketors, in a nutshell, it’s an incredible City livery company who advocates that marketing benefits everyone. To push this message, and what makes The Marketors so special, is that the company promotes the profession through charity work, supporting start-ups and educational establishments, and its own mentoring, educational awards and bursary programmes – amazing, right?

To kick off the lecture, Professor Paul Baines asked the question: “How much do MPs know about marketing?” Which transpired into an eye opening discussion about the reality – because only a tiny proportion of MPs have ever worked in the City of London, and they are, in fact, very inexperienced when it comes to marketing, particularly understanding the reason/need for it, and its powerful impact when targeting audiences.

Did you know that politicians are less trusted than estate agents, bankers and journalists?  Yesterday’s discussion revealed survey results from January this year, which stated a mere 16{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} of Britons trust politicians to tell the truth.

Another interesting thread that came from last night’s session was around how voters want to be reached. What do we want? Leaflets through the door, billboards on every corner, argumentative TV debates, tweets every two minutes – how do we really want to be reached and what power do we want?!

A good example of something a little different is mydavidcameron.com, a website that lets consumers create their own slogans to run alongside David Cameron’s ‘serious’ face. The view is, the reason this particular campaign was so successful is because it allowed us to express our thoughts and opinions – while also taking the mickey a bit – and cleverly making it look like Cameron is mimicking himself.

A perhaps poorer attempt at this was Labour’s Ed Stone, where the main highlights seemed to be the photoshopped Moses references.

On a more serious note, my personal highlight from the evening was hearing from Doctor Rachel Lawes and having a crash course in semiotics. If you don’t already know, semiotics is a form of qualitative research which has two components that are extremely important when it comes to political advertising and marketing; linguistics, the analysis of visual displays; and anthropology, the analysis of cultural ideas and trends. Essentially, semiotics is about analysing consumer behaviour.

The best example of showing how linguistics works is to reference the infamous ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ Saatchi and Saatchi advert from 1996 (pictured). In the world of semiotics, this advert is known as the ‘western usual semiotic’ and describes an advert that uses ‘facts’ along the bottom (Britain’s better off with the Conservatives) and ideas at the top (Labour isn’t working) to grab its audience’s attention.

This is an advertising technique you’ll see on a daily basis. Take a sofa advert in a magazine as an example, there could be a lovely looking sofa with a model at the top of the page and then some small font terms and conditions at the bottom. This is going along exactly the same lines as the Labour advert, with ideas at the top and facts at the bottom – a style all consumers are familiar with.

As the evening drew to a close, there was another brief chat surrounding leaflets and whether or not they are valuable. One woman’s ‘question’ went along the lines of ‘everybody lies’ and ‘I threw all the leaflets in the bin, they are a waste of trees’… the questions soon fizzled out and we moved onto the wine and canapés, which was probably for the best!

So, what did I learn from last night’s lecture, besides the fact that MPs are fairly clueless when it comes to marketing and that the bookie’s clearly had no idea either by putting odds against the Conservative party winning an overall majority being 7/1?

I learnt that marketing is all about building customer relationships, something Labour and the Tories weren’t able to successfully achieve. This was clearly demonstrated by the fact that Farage and UKIP were able to sneak through the middle with almost 13{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} of the vote share. I can but wonder what the next election will bring!