The Problem With Marketing During The Election Campaign Is Really The Big Problem With All Contemporary Marketing And Advertising

Over on the Marketing website, Craig Mawdsley has written an excellent article on how the political parties' adoption of marketing thinking and approaches during the election campaigns has been a failure: Why Marketing Ruined The Election.

He asserts that the political parties are wrong to think of themselves as brands, and adopt over-simplified slogans and positions. And I agree completely with him. We talked about this a little in our post Brand Bullshit Week a few weeks ago:
Conflating political parties and consumer brands is fucking nuts. Idiotic. Thinking of political parties as brands is the kind of shit that has got politics into the horrible state that it's in. They are ideologies, the approaches of which, people can genuinely (and violently) agree or disagree with. The idea that people have the same kind of relationship with political parties as they do with a brand of sandwich spread is beyond fantasy. This idea that 'everything is a brand' and everything a brand problem, is a moronic plague on our times.
But I think what we're getting close to here is something else, something that should be deeply worrying for anyone who commissions or works in advertising. The problem with political parties adopting marketing and advertising approaches is really the problem with where advertising and marketing currently finds itself.

Let me put it this way, twenty years ago advertising seemed to really help the parties and the election campaigns, the techniques and crafts of communication helped these ideologies communicate with power and simplicity the problems they were trying to solve or their point of view.

What's changed isn't that the parties are wrong to turn to marketing or advertising for help. It's that marketing and advertising are currently in a right fucking state.

Contemporary marketing and advertising thinking has evolved into something completely facile and woolly. It thinks that everything is about brand, it thinks everything is a brand problem, and it places way too much emphasis on what people feel, and has completely lost the substance of what it is saying.

Everything isn't about brand. Everything isn't a brand problem.

Marketing has completely lost touch with the customer, and with business.

It's in no man's land.

The business makes a product or provides a service - mostly based on a good idea of what people want or need.

And the customer buys (or doesn't buy) this product, based on a number of factors depending on the category, but largely on whether they think it will fulfil their need.

And then in the middle comes marketing and advertising - who so often feel completely cut-off from that above dynamic - in fact many people working in advertising don't even see themselves as part of that process. Marketing sees itself almost as a separate 'industry' – whereas obviously in reality they are part of a shoe company, or toothpaste company, or company that builds cars.

They have their own set of beliefs and their own world which seems increasingly divorced form the reality of the punter, the product and the business.

This is why so much advertising seems facile and moronic, this why boards, chief execs and FDs are increasingly frustrated with marketing and with advertising agencies.

And it's why you can end up with advertising and campaigns that half the time you have no idea either what they were advertising or what the point of them was. Thirty seconds of fluff with a logo stuck on the end. A moronic slogan and giant packshot. Another cute animal or movie rip-off.

And it's why current marketing and advertising thinking is no use to the political parties.

It's facade and fluff, image and polish. It's all dressing, and no meat.

It's probably not a bad moment to mention that we have a book coming out in a few weeks that attempts to offer a solution: How To Make Better Advertising And Advertising Better (The Manifesto For A New Creative Revolution). Keep your eye out for it.

10 comments:

  1. Interestingly I think well known brands today are trying to become more like political parties and they shouldn't.

    Whilst political parties today are becoming more like well known brands and they shouldn't.

    Brands today want to have a purpose over and above their designed purpose and instead moving into social justice warrior status. You know who I am talking about.

    It is brands now that wish to be involved with issues that really shouldn't be any of their business. Stick to making great products.

    Political parties want to be loved for their image today like brands. It's all about image and no substance no ambition in ideas or quite frankly respect for people.

    And they (like some brands) are afraid to stand out and make an impact and instead become wishy-washy afraid it may offend or miss a vote. Standing for nothing is surely a way to failure.

    In the hustings you can actually see the presentation training the leaders have been through, it was so painfully visible, the classic repeating someones name when asked a question. "Good question Jim and thanks for that, I think t is a really important question Jim, what do you do for a living Jim..." (Pass me the bucket). And brands are starting to do this they are faking sincerity.

    We should be against brands becoming politicians and against politicians becoming brands.

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  2. It's rare, but I disagree with you Sell! Sell!

    "Mawdsley ....asserts that the political parties are wrong to think of themselves as brands, and adopt over-simplified slogans and positions."

    As Dave Trott would testify, the electorate/ consumer is a simple being. I would argue that the successful parties employed basic marketing practices successfully, by identifying the most motivating consumer need and tailoring their messaging accordingly.

    UKIP - The anti-immigration party. Nearly 4m votes.

    SNP - The Scottish independence party. 56 seats.

    The Tories - You can trust us with the economy. 330 seats.

    It was Axelrod/ Labour who behaved like a brand, over-complicating their message and trusting the polls.

    Perhaps you could launch your new book by sending a copy to each of the Labour leadership candidates. I'm sure it's full of smart, simple communication thinking that would help a beleaguered and confused party.

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    1. I think you've got a good point there Anon, and yes some of the parties were better than others at distilling a simple thought that meant something to at least some part of the electorate. The tories did have their 'We'll look after the economy"/"Don't let labour screw up the economy" message pretty honed - but they were as guilty as anyone for over-emphasising style and personality over substance. Generally it's easier for the smaller/niche parties as they can take the 'traditional' advertising approach of picking one thing and hammering that.Clearly labour never got their act together.

      I don't think people are as stupid/simple as marketers and ad folk tend to think though. Although in this busy, time-poor world honing and simplifying your massage to one clear proposition is clearly vital.

      I think where marketing (and political parties) tend to be going wrong is that they are concentrating too much on saying "This is what we're like, buy into us" when they should be saying "This is what's in it for you". And that's just good, old-fashioned advertising thinking. NOt very 'love marks' I'll grant you ;-P

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    2. Thanks Sell! Sell!

      Disagree: "but they (Tories) were as guilty as anyone for over-emphasising style and personality over substance."

      Nope, Cameron refused several debates and they really had to get him "pumped up" (no tie, vigorous arm movements, sweaty upper lip) the weekend before the election to convince the electorate that he was a human and cared. In spite of 5 years of evidence to the contrary, the Tories seemed to stick to policy over personality for most of the campaign. Admirable.

      Disagree: "I don't think people are as stupid/simple as marketers and ad folk tend to think though."

      Have you been on twitter and facebook recently? :) Of the 36% of those who voted how many are going to be better off under the Tories i wonder.

      Agree completely: "I think where marketing (and political parties) tend to be going wrong is that they are concentrating too much on saying "This is what we're like, buy into us" when they should be saying "This is what's in it for you". And that's just good, old-fashioned advertising thinking. NOt very 'love marks' I'll grant you ;-

      Agree, "what's in it for me" is always the best approach although£12bn of cuts and a static standard of living http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32130434 don't support your view that the customer/ electorate are smarter than i think.

      Good luck with the book chaps.

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    3. Well you're entitled to your opinion obviously, but I still think that people individually are smarter than they're given credit for by most marketers and advertisers. And we'll continue to create advertising based on that. While marketing and advertising people continue to think that their customer/audience is more stupid than they (and their friends) are, well it'll always be in trouble.

      Politics may well be different, but then, that was the point in the first place.

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  3. I have now read the Mawdsley article. He is living in the same deluded bubble that has seen Labour gain seats in London and fail almost everywhere else.

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  4. Trott over Mawdsley, creatives over strategists any day! http://www.brandrepublic.com/article/1346912/dave-trott-edstone-stone-daft

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  5. Good post from Dave there. I think he's basically saying the same as we are - loads of nonsense, no message of substance.

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  6. In light of the topic: Sam Delaney's book "Mad Men and Bad Men: What Happened When British Politics Met Advertising" is an interesting read.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mad-Men-Bad-Happened-Advertising-ebook/dp/B00PPH081E/

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