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The Story

March 2010

“It’ll be all clear on the night”.

‘Tory election campaign lacks clear message’, claim Conservative MP’s.
Think of a Pyramid, the Message will come out … somehow Conservative MP’s warn David Cameron that the party’s election campaign is too complicated and lacks clear messages. MP’s and candidates were baffled when told at a private meeting (leaked to the Press) that they should campaign by thinking of a pyramid, with one slogan at the top, three promises in the middle, and six pledges at the base.

The slogan (on the top) is “We can’t go on like this. Vote for change.” Three promises (in the middle) relate to changing the economy, society, and politics -criticised as being too negative. The six pledges (at the base) are short snappy titles of vague objectives such as “Act now on debt” and “Get Britain working".

Nice Concept Design,
but how will it work?

And what is Big Society?

The general feeling was that Oliver Letwin, the campaign strategy presenter, had ‘over-intellectualised’ the main message. The Campaign Guide was ‘unnecessarily complicated’. Some attendees at the meeting said that they would ‘make it up on the doorstep’. One said it was ‘very high-concept’. Most said “How will this work?”

What does ‘Big Society’ mean exactly?  [UPDATE, October 2010: public opinion research indicates that more than half of the electorate still don't know what this means. It is obvious that the Coalition Government is working it out as it goes along, which is fine if they get it right. Soon.]

Good Planning Others complained that the briefings were taking place too near the election and asked why they hadn’t been held weeks ago.
Good Leadership? One said that there was little sense that this was a shared endeavour. It was all about Cameron either winning or losing. It was all based on the Leader - the followers would be better off keeping out of the way.
Well Tested?

And finally, as a demonstration of how well the Party machine has now gone ‘wired up’, one MP claimed that he had been trying to download the Campaign Guide to his Blackberry for 24 hours and it had obviously frozen in cyberspace.


Analysis and Lessons

Clear Communication ... Communications Pre-testing ... (non) Inspirational Leadership

It’s the pyramid message, stupid

We can see the pyramid concept making a nice PowerPoint presentation (which it probably was) but what MP’s and candidates want is a simple, clear, compelling, differentiating, credible message that they can pass on directly when speaking to the electorate either on doorsteps or group meetings, or to local journalists.

Positive and credible is more appealing

… unless you are very clever at being negative

It is much harder to sell a negative message than one that is positive and inspiring. Attacking messages will only work if voters are given a positive, credible alternative – unless you can devise a highly creative attacking poster message such as “Labour isn’t working” which helped bring Margaret Thatcher into power. The short, vague ‘pledges’ at the Tory pyramid base lack any detail and credibility. They are sound bites – fine for attracting attention but if not instantly followed up with meaningful detail or credible promises voters will ignore them.

An inspirational message?
It certainly inspired others to spoofery.

The Tory poster campaigns such as the ‘airbrushed’ David Cameron announcing “We can’t go on like this …” are remembered more for the thousands of spoof ads that followed than the intended message. This particular message was criticised by one influential blogger as being ‘vacuous’ and not differentiating the Tories from the other Parties or giving any hint as to how the goals would be achieved.

One of our Effective Communications tests (part of our AdQA service) would have highlighted the potential problem of messages like this - they invite spoofery and the message gets lost.

Poor Planning?
Or risky poker game?
Polls lead cut to 2%.
Where did that huge Polls’ lead go? Tory timing is highly questionable. As one journalist put it, if Cameron is only now going to lay out very clearly what the Party stands for and what its policies are, what has Team Cameron been doing for the past two years? Keeping your cards close to your chest for too long is high risk.
Inspirational Leadership? If MP’s and candidates feel they have to keep a low profile and the brand is dictated solely by the Leader, then they are hardly likely to be inspired. Obama was successful because he made his followers feel important (“Yes WE can”). Cameron made them feel constrained and disengaged, which is not inspiring Leadership.

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