Labour Isn't Working: how would today's marketers reimagine this classic ad campaign?


By Justin Pearse, Managing Director, The Drum Works

April 19, 2016 | 6 min read

Sponsored by:

What's this?

Sponsored content is created for and in partnership with an advertiser and produced by the Drum Studios team.

Find out more

The Reimagining Advertising campaign, created in partnership with GumGum, is asking a panel of ten marketers how they would reimagine seminal ads from the pre-digital age to find out how today’s leading advertising thinkers would reinvent them with the current digital tools at their disposal.

In the penultimate in the series, Malcolm Poynton, Chief Creative Officer, Cheil Worldwide; Ross Sleight, Chief Strategy Officer, Somo; Milton Elias, Head of Mobile & Tech Futures, OMD UK; and Ben Plomion, SVP Marketing, GumGum reimagine the classic outdoor ad campaign Labour Isn't Working.

The gold standard political ad

Some of the most iconic ads are for political campaigns. ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ is just such an ad. In fact, it’s now the gold standard, the one by which all political ads are judged. Created by Saatchi & Saatchi in the run up to the UK’s 1979 General Election, the poster features a simple graphic and clever play on words to deliver a wallop.

The Conservatives went on to win the election with a 43-seat majority, thus launching the age of Thatcherism. Party Treasurer Lord Thorneycroft credits the ad with his party’s victory by convincing voters that ‘Britain’s better off with the Conservatives.’

How would our panellists update this iconic ad?

Don’t mess with perfection: Malcolm Poynton, Chief Creative Officer, Cheil Worldwide

This is an iconic and phenomenal poster, a great example of how something should be left alone. This ad was so far ahead of its time, and oftentimes we attempt to create a digital of version of something when we shouldn’t.

‘Labour isn’t Working’ is a great example of the power of posters; it had real stopping power. The message is so strong, but it was a static message, and that’s why it was so powerful. The message hits you in the face. I think a digital engagement would undermine its power.

Data tells the truth: Ross Sleight, Chief Strategy Officer, Somo

This ad has a strong visual, but it’s based on an interpretation of data. It’s one party’s interpretation of a set of data, which may or may not be accurate, or may or may not reflect my personal situation. So when reimaging this ad, the questions become: How can we tell a more honest story based on actual data? And how can we represent that data in a visually engaging way? I’m not talking about an infographic, but using a number of tools, utilities or interfaces that allow me to tell and display a data-driven narrative.

There are many ways we can use data to look at unemployment. How it has trended over time, and what are the impacts of my rival political parties’ time in office? And what’s the best way to show that on a digital billboard?

Going further, I can provide ways for voters to analyse that data themselves by entering queries into the database, such as what does the data reveal about my local area? How has unemployment grown in my town under the political parties’ tenure? Is my demographic more likely to face unemployment?

The data tools and the messages can be pushed out in social media, listicles, online quizzes and native advertising.

The original ad was effective because it delivered such a strong narrative. A data-heavy campaign can tell a lot more stories effectively, and even challenge false narratives. More importantly, it will teach voters to question the narratives of political parties by giving them access to the raw data.

Give the line real faces: Milton Elias, Head of Mobile & Tech Futures, OMD UK

I see a data-heavy digital campaign that targets people who are likely to be out of work or actively seeking a job, which we can do in a number of ways.

We can target keywords related to job search, use real-time and historical location data to reach folks who are currently in a job centre or have been to one recently, as well as Mosaic data for postcodes where unemployment is statistically high. We’d send the message, ‘Your party is failing you and this is what we can do to help.’

To get a bit flashy, I’d do a version of a New Zealand campaign for the Samsung Galaxy S4 headset. That execution poked fun at Apple fans who lined up for hours by creating a Smart Phone Line. People opted to wait in a virtual queue, which was created using their Facebook profiles superimposed on digital bodies. If they posted about a new feature of the phone on Facebook, they’d move up in the queue. The sign was massive and clever. At night all of

the figures would roll out sleeping bags to sleep; if it rained they held up umbrellas. Obviously, the sign received a tremendous amount of attention.

To update the Labour ad, I’d replace that illustrated version of the unemployed folks in line with a virtual one, where real unemployed voters opted in. The sign would be located in a politically sensitive place, like near Parliament.

Labour isn't working for me: Ben Plomion, SVP Marketing, GumGum

Trust in political candidates is at its lowest since the 1980s. So rather than say, ‘Labour isn’t working’ with an image of an unemployment line, I’d find images of prominent Labour politicians who promised to reduce unemployment but failed to deliver on those promises.

I would use social listening tools to scan images of Labour politicians on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr, using either hashtag or image recognition technology. Then I’d create a real-time online library that showcases Labour’s ‘biggest liars’. I would introduce a new hashtag #labourisntworking so that social activists can contribute to the library of images.

I’d also integrate these images in display ads to run on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. To spice this up a little bit, I would create ‘memes’ of the Labour politicians and run videos on Vine, YouTube and Vimeo.

Lastly, I picture creating an online video, such as the interactive Tipp-Ex ad ‘A Hunter Shoots a Bear’ from 2010. The video will let users poke fun of Labour politicians.

Content created with:


GumGum is a contextual-first global advertising technology company that captures people’s attention, without the use of personal data. We believe that a digital...

Find out more


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +