4 Memorable Election Marketing Campaigns: What Worked, What Didn’t

People choosing a candidate to vote after being influenced by their marketing campaigns and the strategies used.

Whatever your opinions on politics, it’s hard to avoid the onslaught of political advertising in the UK at the moment, in the run-up to the general election on 4th July. As marketers, general elections are an interesting time because they showcase a lot of the trends, technologies, and challenges shaping marketing in general, and there are plenty of takeaways that businesses can use in their own marketing campaigns

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Some election campaigns have gone on to have a wider impact on marketing and sales more generally – and in this article we will explore some of the most memorable campaigns, looking at potential lessons for small businesses. Some are memorable for all the wrong reasons, of course, and we will look at a couple of those, too.

1. “New Labour, New Danger” Conservative Party (General Election 1997)

The Conservative party’s “New Labour, New Danger” campaign was a cornerstone of the Tory’s advertising strategy before the 1997 General Election, attempting to fuel doubts about Tony Blair’s newly rebranded Labour Party in the eyes of voters. The slogan was a direct play on the Labour Party’s “New Labour, New Britain” campaign slogan.

The most memorable aspect of this campaign was the ‘Demon Eyes’ poster, designed by Saatchi & Saatchi, which show Tony Blair with red, devilish eyes peeking out from behind a curtain. In marketing terms, the campaign is a classic example of negative advertising, depicting a competitor as a dangerous and unknown quantity, and using stark visual metaphors and messages to play on anxieties among voters.

The other memorable aspect of the campaign is that it failed. The lesson for businesses is that negative advertising almost never as effective as positive advertising. We say ‘almost’, because the Conservative’s clever play on words “Labour isn’t working” arguably helped them get over the line in 1979 and again (just about) in 2010. For businesses though, instead of playing on the supposed weaknesses or shortcomings of competitors, the best strategy is to play to your own strengths, with a positive message about what you have to offer.

2. “Hope” Barack Obama (US Presidential Election 2008)

For the 2008 American presidential election, Barack Obama’s team attempted the exact opposite to the Conservative Party’s 1997 effort, with memorable, and successful results. The striking “Hope” poster is one of the most iconic visuals of this campaign, and a marker of its success is the number of times it has been replicated and parodied to this day.

The image was bold and simple: a portrait of Obama in blues and reds, with the word ‘Hope’ at the bottom. The campaign was accompanied by positive ‘yes we can’ message, making the audience feel confident about change. One of the lessons of the campaign is that you don’t have to go into vast technical detail to convey a sense of value, purpose, or integrity. Often, simple messages are the most effective. This campaign is also memorable as one of the first political campaigns to made widespread use of social media and omnichannel content to engage users, which had an enormous influence on businesses around the world.

3. “Britain Stronger in Europe” – Remain Campaign (2016 EU Referendum)

The goal of the Remain Campaign during the 2016 EU referendum was to build a rational case about the potential economic risks of leaving the EU, and the campaign managers leveraged the principles of influencer marketing to draw support from a wide range of political and business figures, in the UK and internationally.

However, by focusing heavily on rational arguments, the campaign sacrificed some of its emotional resonance, with the result that it, arguably, failed to connect emotionally as well as it should. This contrasts strongly with the “Vote Leave, Take Control” slogan of the leave campaign, which simplified its campaign messages into an easy to remember and repeat slogan that could be consistently delivered across various media platforms.

Some of the marketing takeaways from the EU referendum were the importance of consistency and clarity in brand messages, and the importance of emotional resonance. Marketing messages must hit the heart as well as the head, and as important as endorsements are, these can sometimes backfire if it comes across like the customer is being ‘spoken down to’ by a business.

4. “Think Big, Vote Green” Green Party (General Election 2019)

The Green Party have always been outliers in the British political system, and in 2019 – a general election completely dominated by Brexit – they faced an uphill challenge promoting their Green New Deal to a polarised public. Their campaign slogan “Think big, vote Green” was a simple and effective way of turning the tables in their advertising, presenting a minority player is being the bold and obvious choice. A takeaway for small businesses is that being a minor player isn’t necessarily a disadvantage in digital marketing. In your marketing content, you can turn your apparent weaknesses and deficiencies into strengths and selling points, creating new opportunities for dialogue with your customers.

What Next?

To find out how you can optimise your marketing strategy to resonate with your customers and make more sales, please get in touch with JDR today by calling 01332 982247.

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