Alastair Campbell talks election advertising and social media

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former director of communications has described the Conservative ad campaign featuring David Cameron as ‘old fashioned’ and highlighted the role of social media.

In a piece in The Times, the former director of communications to Tony Blair wrote about the importance of political campaign adverts, and compared the Conservatives' marketing budget of £18m to that of Barack Obama’s in comparison with Labour’s budget.

“Hence, while Labour struggles to raise money, we saw the launch last week of another expensive Tory poster campaign,” Campbell wrote, touching upon the latest Conservative campaign, ‘I’ve never voted Tory before’.

“Posters have played an important role in elections,” continued Campbell, citing ‘Labour isn’t working’ and the ‘Double Whammy’ boxing gloves campaign as well as the ‘Britain Deserves Better’ campaign used by Tony Blair to win his first election in 1997 as examples.

The first poster campaign from the Conservatives this year featured leader David Cameron, with a white background and the slogan ‘We can’t go on like this’, and was widely mocked for being airbrushed.

The campaign quickly inspired a website dedicated to spoofing the poster.

“It was, as someone who prides himself on being modern, and a communications expert, a very old-fashioned piece of advertising, killed almost instantly on Twitter, Facebook and political blogs,” said Campbell. He added that the new campaign showed that the party had learned lessons on "authenticity".

Despite this, he said that the new ‘I’ve never voted Tory before’ campaign had inspired a counter campaign through Twitter with users highlighting reasons why not to vote for the party.

“It is too early to proclaim the death of traditional poster advertising, as a drive down any urban thoroughfare will confirm. But public resistance to heavy messaging has grown, and for politics in particular there is no guarantee that the rewards of a well-funded, well-crafted and well-executed ad concept will outweigh the risks,” he said, highlighting the change that social media has made to the relationship between parties and voters.

“All that will matter is the performance of the leaders and the reaction of the public. The events will be surrounded by millions of words of media comment. But the judgements that count will be the ones made live, in real time, as the debate unfold…across social media sites.”

The piece was written ahead of today’s allegations of bullying that Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced this morning in the press.

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