Will agencies have a big part – or just a bit part – to play in 2015’s political bunfights?

“Boris moves in for the kill” bellowed the Daily Mail’s front page earlier this week, as the bumbling mayor of London, shirt hanging out no doubt, announced, after days of procrastinating, that he was to back the ‘Brexit’ camp in the UK’s In/Out referendum on EU membership.

Some tiger. It’s pretty clear that Boris (below), more ‘European’ by birth and connections than most Brits, has been weighing up his options and decided that a prominent role in a successful Brexit campaign will do him more good than yet more promises from PM, and old Eton rival, David Cameron about a big job in government – sometime.

London Mayor Boris Johnson speaks in front of his home in London, Britain February 21, 2016. Britain will hold a referendum on European Union membership on June 23. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

But it’s another element in what promises to be a rich year of politics; most notably, of course, the US presidential election. Which ought to be mean goodies of some description for the many agencies who will be competing for the job of backing Cameron or Johnson, Donald Trump or, most likely still, Hillary Clinton. Recently we had WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell, who’ll be expecting some election rewards somewhere in his far flung empire, telling Bloomberg that he expected to see a US race between Democrat Clinton and Republican Trump – saying he thought Trump would be the GOP contender because the polls don’t usually lie – completely.

But does advertising really have that much effect on these hallowed democratic processes?

Let’s wind back to JFK (Democrat) against Richard Nixon (Republican and the favourite) in 1960. In the end Kennedy won, by the narrowest of margins, just 112,000 votes nationwide. An important chunk of those was rumoured to have been delivered by the Chicago mafia, acquaintances of JFK’s former bootlegger dad Joseph.

Here’s what the Mad Men made of the campaign as they prepared to enter the lists for Nixon.

The agencies involved in this year’s bunfights will be having the same old argument: do we tell a positive story (which everyone says they want) or knock the opposition (which quite often works)?

Droga5 chose the former in its debut ad for the Clinton campaign and a right old yawn it was. Hillary’s advisers will be telling her it’s time to show her teeth but she’s not the type – in public anyway. As the pre-primary hot favourite for the Democratic nomination she’s already on the defensive. Jeb Bush, although he entered the race too late, was the Republican favourite and he’s out already. After years of austerity, in a world that seems to grow more unequal by the day, voters want something different – Bernie Sanders for the Democrats (however unlikely) and Trump, even though the Donald is hardly an egalitarian.

Most agencies aren’t much good at such disruption, their instincts lie with the business-friendly status quo.

In the UK M&C Saatchi will no doubt enter the lists for one side or the other. Supporting the Brexit camp wouldn’t be a problem as it seems to include most of the Tory party. M&C would say their work, derided as it was, helped the ‘In’ camp in the Scottish referendum campaign and the Tories won the last General Election. Their message in the Scottish referendum – ‘hang on to nurse for fear of something worse’ – eventually resonated and that’s likely to be the fallback position of the ‘In’ camp in the EU referendum too.

As for the establishment contender in the US – Clinton – D5, if it keeps the job, will have to put its thinking cap on. Lots of Americans clearly want new faces. Effecting such a makeover on Clinton would tax even Mad Men Sterling and Draper.

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