Still more Blanche Hunt than Gene Hunt, but things are looking up

My last post bemoaned how little the three main political parties were making use of the possibilities afforded by social media.  Campaigns were tending towards the negative, sometimes even the bile-drenched, rather than harnessing the interactive and the viral opportunities on offer.

This week has campaigns from each of the three hitting the headlines in the ‘old media’, and while I would still describe them as being more evocative of ‘Blanche Hunt‘ (the dear departed, pensioner queen of the sour one-liner in ITV1’s ‘Coronation Street’) than the ‘Gene Hunt‘ from BBC1’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’ contained in the imagery in some of them, things are looking up in the sophistication of their ambitions.

Blanche Hunt, played by Maggie Jones, who died on 2 Dec 2009

The first to come under the spotlight is Labour.  Rather than deciding to use an agency for the creative in their next advertising poster, they decided to invite members and supporters to take part and share their creative ideas.  It provides a way of scouring the horizon for potential creative ideas that the party may have missed, and provides a route for conversation with supporters, enabling them to feel they are getting involved.  It was dubbed “The People’s Poster“, with updates on entries provided via Twitter, and behind the scenes video of the competition given on You Tube.  Some of the entries were negative, some were very funny, and some were iconic.

Brilliant!  All of this provided perfect material for media relations too when the eventual winner was announced.

Labour's winning "People's Poster"

Labour could have intervened on the quality control, as one of the problems with social media is there is no control over what will be said or submitted.

In this case, Labour were too caught up with the message submitted, and its essential negative content to be able to stand back and see its essential weakness, that other people on social media, and the Conservatives were able to turn to their advantage.  The main character depicted on the poster – Gene Hunt – is a national hero, who despite tending towards the racist and the sexist, is essentially viewed as a redeemable fictional character of a particular time.  He is also a ‘bit of a dish‘, from an award-winning programme that regularly tops the ratings – a bit like The Sweeney, and A Touch of Frost too, for example.  Oh dear – cue Conservative mash-up of poster.

Conservative 'mash-up' of Labour's poster

I think it would be even stronger if you view it while playing this jingle, as sourced from the car horn of the ‘General Lee’ car in “Dukes of Hazzard” – another immigrant from TV in the 1980s.

It’s humour, and use of rhetoric are stronger, and so it is able to deliver its attack back with a a more memorable, stronger punch.

The Conservatives tried their hand at viral humour on April Fools’ Day, with a mock story about the Department of Government Waste.  A quick look at the view counter will demonstrate that it has not been as effective as the Liberal Democrat campaign for a spoof political party called the Labservatives complete with Twitter and Facebook presence.  The lesson here appears to be better research, with the Lib Dem message appearing to have a stronger resonance with voters, and delivered in a not particularly tribal fashion that has worked well.

The Conservatives may have made more productive use of new media through their use of ‘crowdsourcing‘ in their analysing of the budget’s effects on pensioners, and it may be behind the scenes use of new media which help supply old media with stories which may prove the most effective during the coming campaign.

Before signing off, a better example of how social media (working in tandem with old media) works best, with The Guardian newspaper’s own spoof April Fools’ Day story about Labour’s fictional ‘Step outside posh boy’ campaign.

Guardian spoof

Not only did it go viral on social media, and get reported as a spoof on old media, the paper encouraged readers to submit their own versions of the artwork, tapping into this alleged ‘side’ of the PM’s character.  It became a top trending topic of discussion on Twitter, is still accepted as one of the better ideas, and now the Guardian is even retailing limited edition T-shirts.  If only it had been real!

The lessons from all of this, if there are any, are:-

>  to let go a little, and employ as many sets of eyes and ears as possible – audience understanding.  In my limited experience, the political party activists need to get out and live life a little bit.  The press conference where David and Ed Milliband announced the “People’s Poster” looked a little odd.  It looked like the brother’s didn’t get out enough, or knew enough about popular culture.  If they had, the initiative might have worked a lot better;

> to continue getting rid of the bile in their campaigning efforts in favour of humour juice.  They are still too much like Blanche Hunt than Gene Hunt in how they conduct themselves.

These types of attack-ad inspired campaigns only scratch the surface in terms of what is possible with regard to integration with other comms channels, and nimbleness of foot.  For that, I sense we will be looking towards the pressure groups, and less formalised groupings of campaigners.

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