AdvertisersAgenciesAnalysisCreativeFinanceMediaNewsPoliticsPRSocial Media

Why is British political advertising so bad? It’s the curse of Saatchi & Saatchi

When you’re in a hole stop digging remains good advice. It’s seemingly to be ignored by the UK’s opposition Labour Party which has vowed to continue with its “gloves off” social media campaign accusing PM Rishi Sunak (who’s only been an MP for a few years) of all sorts of things he had nothing to do with.

Like the ad below. One it’s misleading, two the policy it describes (actually a sensible one, you can’t lock up everybody) is more the work of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer who was director of public prosecutions at the time. Starmer, bizarrely, has defended the ad as has his shadow cabinet ally Emily Thornberry, just the kind of Islington know-all to get up everybody’s nose.


Quite who devised it and who actually decided to run it we know not, but it was probably some politics student muppet labouring at Labour HQ who read somewhere that negative, knocking ads win elections. Most of the evidence shows that they don’t but back in the day Saatchi & Saatchi produced the most famous such ad of all time – ‘Labour isn’t working.’

This ran back in 1978 when it looked as though then embattled Labour PM Jim Callaghan was going to call an early election just before the shit really hit the fan in the what became the strike-bound winter of 78/79.

Labour chancellor and deputy leader Denis Healey kicked up a fuss about the ad, otherwise nobody would probably have noticed. But Callaghan called off the election and ushered in a decade or so of Margaret Thatcher and the Tories.

The other winning party, of course, was Saatchi which became the most famous agency in the country (the only famous agency probably) with Thatcher courtiers Tim Bell and Maurice Saatchi eventually elevated to the House of Lords.

And negativity became the accepted way to do things. Lord Saatchi entered these lists the other day claiming that negativity worked, although it was hard to do. He instanced the Ten Commandments – “Thou shalt not” etc – as examples of its efficacy. Well maybe but Saatchi in later years became far more negative for the Tories in its efforts to unseat Tony Blair’s Labour and failed completely.

By far the most successful recent campaign in politics was Brexit in 2016 which was positive, in the sense of promising voters something good rather than just hammering the other lot.

This is what’s called an old-fashioned election bribe. Vote Leave and £350m a week will pour into the NHS coffers. Complete cobblers of course as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings (remember him?) and co. must have known at the time.

But people want to vote for something they (naively in this case) think will make their lives better. Just attacking the other lot as Labour seems intent on doing (spectacularly badly) won’t get you anywhere. Whatever the Saatchi and Saatchi orthodoxy.

One Comment

  1. There are so many legitimate things on which to attack the Tories, but when you have no policies, no vision, and you march to a right wing tune, then this is what you do for clicks. These ads bang the Tory drum of hatred and division. It is dog-whistle politics.

Back to top button