By Archie Heaton
A big part of the ad industry’s job is to understand what people think, to have our finger on the pulse. This is, to a large extent, what brands pay us for; to translate what consumers are thinking and feeling so that we can help companies tell stories that resonate with them. To push products and services in the direction society is heading. Put simply, to stay ahead of the curve by knowing where it is.
However, the disappointing response to Campaign’s latest magazine cover, featuring Nigel Farage, shows that we have forgotten this. In fact, the pompous and condescending public letter from ‘Media for All’ – an industry pressure group peppered with Silicon Valley big wigs – paints a very different picture. Despite its member’s exceptional credentials and clearly noble intentions, their outburst is the latest move from an industry whose fingers appear to be lodged firmly in their ears, muttering “la-la-la-la” as its already diminished relevance is further eroded.
In the time it has taken ad land to swap round the letters in KFC, give a gorilla a pair of drumsticks and pay Lily Allen to cover Oasis, Farage has literally changed Britain. He has dragged the fringe issue of the UK’s European Union membership to the front of the national conversation, triggered and won a referendum, transformed the main political parties beyond recognition and won two national elections (one with a party he set up only months before).
The man is, without question, one of the most iconic and influential figures of our age, commanding a larger share of voice over the past few years than all of the brands Campaign’s readers represent combined. Everyone in the UK knows his name, a majority voted for his Brexit and millions have voted for him and his parties directly.
More notably still, he has achieved all the above with no real political power; without policy levers to pull and no seat in Parliament or at the Cabinet table. Instead, he has achieved it by simply by telling stories, by crafting his message and by provoking the establishment in a way that resonated with the people. In short, by marketing. This is a man who has risen to the top not through back room deals and traditional politics, but in the public eye. On reflection, he sits more naturally on the cover of Campaign than he ever could on that of Private Eye or the New Statesman.
Interest in Farage should not originate solely from his supporters, rather, as the composer of a cultural phenomenon, anyone who regards themselves as inquisitive should give a shit about what he has to say. And, as a marketing professional, I’d love to understand, if only even to a small extent, how he did it. And I don’t think I’m alone. This ‘controversial’ interview is illuminating, providing an insight into the 15 million previously voiceless Brits that support him – offering the exact trip outside of our echo chambers that the industry needs to help it avoid the London centric promotions and Gillette-style virtue signalling that have damaged our reputation.
Most importantly though, as a citizen of this country, I refuse to have the world I read about warped by out-of-touch executives and Silicon Valley tech companies, whose own moral compasses haven’t proved too robust over the last few years. I want all views, those I agree with and especially those I don’t, out in the open where I can see them. The alternative is the simmering anger that a lack of representation breeds, one that pushes people to the political extremes in a desperate plea to be heard. Because, if Trump and Brexit have taught us anything, it’s that if people don’t feel like they can say what they think in public, they will be forced to do so in the privacy of the ballot box.
If in future we want to avoid this, and quite frankly produce better creative work, I urge for a new kind of diversity, diversity of opinion. Without it, our steps towards achieving the “diverse place” that ‘Media for All’ claim to be striving for in their letter will lead to a very hollow victory indeed.
Archie Heaton is a brand consultant.
Editor adds: Agree with just about everything Archie says, especially the “pompous and condescending” Media For All. Thought these characters represented platforms rather than publishers. What’s it got to do with them?
Where I might differ is on the notion that politicians, like Farage, build brands – the ostensible reason for the interview. ‘Brands’ have taken on a quasi-mystical role in adland, actually they’re products or services which are more famous than the norm. Politicians don’t build brands, they latch on to issues – Farage is perhaps the best recent UK example, PM BoJo is another.
Pretty sure the reason Campaign chose to interview Farage is because he’s famous and would therefore attract lots of reads. But we all do that from time to time.
What they probably didn’t expect was the ensuing Twitter storm from a whole load of people who seem severely deranged. If this is the best that UK adland can offer, God help us. On Campaign’s Twitter feed there’s a sensible article from Advertising Association president James Murphy. For which much thanks.