Today marked the starting gun of the 2015 General Election campaign, with the three major political parties laying out their stalls at high-profile events.
With 120 days – that’s seventeen weeks – to go until election day, there’s a risk we’ll be well and truly fed up of the campaigning come May 7th! However, it’s also going to be one of the most exciting elections in recent times, with many commentators predicting no single party winning an overall majority, and the uncertainly of what effect the UKIP, Lib Dem and SNP votes will have on the result.
As the parties are battling it out across the country, it’s going to be fascinating to see what political marketing tactics and tricks they use to get their messages across.
2015 – we’ll see the most sophisticated political marketing campaigns yet…
Marketing is all about communicating the value of a product or service to customers (or, indeed, a manifesto to the voting public). Of course, how the parties market themselves to their audience is crucial to a successful campaign.
But this year, there are several factors that will make this campaign season different to the political campaigns of the past.
Firstly, this is the first time that we’ve known exactly when the election date will be in the UK, following the introduction of fixed-term Parliaments. (Remember, in the past a snap election could be called by the Prime Minister, giving just a month’s notice). All political camps have been firmly focussed on 7th May 2015 for a long time, meaning their campaigns are being meticulously planned.
Secondly, it’s well known that both the Conservatives and Labour have recruited top strategic advisers from America – in fact both parties poaching senior campaign staff from Barack Obama’s team. The American way of political campaigning, particularly playing to the mass media and the more scientific approach to targeting voters, will go up another notch in 2015.
Thirdly, marketeers now love to talk about “big data”. The plentiful supply of information about the public, as well as cheap computer processing power, make it easy to convert this data into more meaningful reports. As Sky News say – “this will be the UK’s first truly data-driven election.” Campaign messages and canvassing time can be targeted to different areas (even specific roads!). All the major political parties have their own data programmes. Pollsters also make use of “big data”, for instance the University of East Anglia is combining previous polls and results, along with census data, to come up with a constituency by constituency model to predict the election outcome. Everything is now more sophisticated than the old fashioned “swingometer”!
And fourthly, the 2010 campaign saw political parties dabble in social media marketing – but this year they’re going to be pushing this harder than ever. There’s going to be a shift from traditional direct mail marketing to utilising social networks to much greater potential, including more paid advertising. The Conservatives arguably use their national social media accounts very well and they’re running some really effective and eye-catching campaigns, although since the last election Labour has been embracing powerful political campaigning software called NationBuilder and it’ll be interesting to see how they use this. The Labour website seems to have the edge on the Conservative’s design, but I expect we’ll see changes to both sites in the coming weeks.
New Year messages: the beginning of the 2015 political campaign
The campaign machines started warming up on New Year’s Eve, with the release of Labour leader Ed Miliband’s video message, followed the next day by Conservative leader David Cameron’s message.
The backgrounds were of course carefully chosen; Cameron in an industrial setting that reinforces the message that his party are to be trusted on the economy; and Miliband against a Christmas tree, sat in his lounge, to try to get across his warmer side.
A serious-looking Cameron wearing his suit and (purple!) tie conveying he means business; compared to a smiling Miliband in a cosy jumper who wants to connect with you. Don’t be under any illusion – their advisers will be planning everything down to the smallest detail!
The first press conferences –5th January
On Monday, the three major parties went head-to-head in carefully staged press events, all taking place between 11:00 and 12:30.
This was about setting the narrative for the election battle and they were all looking to maximise their coverage in the evening TV news bulletins. Image is key.
Miliband, evidently having had extra training and practice to polish his delivery in recent weeks, spoke in Salford against a modern, plum red background – but this was not the Labour party’s traditional red branding. The tagline carefully positioned to the side of Miliband on the printed popup display.
In contrast, recent polls show the Conservative party is more trusted with running the economy and they lined up not just one minister, but five, to portray their team as a panel of trusted experts on the subject. This panel stood on a glossy stage, in an almost symmetrical order, with the London city skyline visible out of the windows behind them. Had they all been a little younger, it wouldn’t have looked out of place as a set from the entrepreneur reality show The Apprentice! Interestingly, this building – Millbank Tower – was where Tony Blair’s 1997 election campaign was masterminded.
It’s worth noting that the party who have been grabbing lots of attention lately – UKIP – seemed to take the day off, with no noticeable appearances at all. However, with their limited resources, it was always going to be a battle between the two big parties today and they were sensible to take a back seat. It is, after all, going to be a very long campaign!
This is only the start and, if there’s one thing for certain, there’s going to be a lot more fun in the world of political marketing over the coming weeks.
Mike founded Primary Image in 2010. He specialises in the WordPress website platform and speaks regularly at national web design conferences. Mike became a member (MCIPR) of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in 2015.