Friday, September 29, 2006

The Future Of British Campaign Ads

Television advertising in UK general elections is tightly controlled. This is very different from countries such as the US, where television advertising is only constrained by the size of the candidate's pocket. However, even in such a controlled environment, there have been some quite memorable broacasts over the years, from "Jennifer's Ear" to "Kinnock: The Movie" (a detailed history can be found here). Times are changing though and campaign ads of the future will take place on blogs like this and in your inbox.

The rise of sites such as Google Video and You Tube point towards a future in which online advertising becomes much more significant, both on a national and local level. Anyone with a camcorder and a copy of Apple's iMovie could produce a 30second commercial that will live or die on the strength of the idea. Couple this with the countless pressure groups who will be able to appeal directly to the electorate at the next election and a brave new world is upon us.

In the US, the last presidential election witnessed the rise of online pressure groups that utilised new media distribution to get their message out. MoveOn.Org and Swift Boat Veterans For Truth grew virally and made a terrific impact on the political landscape. In the US, this has led to a fracturing of the message. The key question for candidates is how they get their message out and break through the clutter.

The impact on the UK is likely to be quite different. We do not experience anything like the bombardment of political messages that is common in the US. It is highly unlikely that the rules relating to advertising on terrestrial television will change and so the internet will play a magnified role. The power of online ads is not necessarily their ability to influence voters, but the ability to influence the regular media, setting the tone and focus of debate.

What this means for political parties is that they need strong, targeted creative that viewers want to pass on. The internet is not a passive medium and poor execution will end up in the email trash can. Fundamentally, this means taking more risks. The winners will be those that are fun, cheeky and quirky. The problem for the main parties is that single issue groups will be much better placed to take advantage of this dynamic.

So what does this mean for us? Well I'm personally looking forward to the Iraq Veterans For Truth campaign against the current Labour government. For you, it means you might want to brush up on your editing skills and buy a new camcorder.

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