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Political ads: the good, the bad and the ugly

By Emma Mulcahy | Staff writer

June 11, 2019 | 7 min read

It’s a turbulent time for politics. Theresa May is stepping down as prime minister, Brexit is looming ever closer and Donald Trump has been out in Europe being… well, his usual diplomatic self.

Bernie Sanders, Green Party, Breaking Point, AOC

Bernie Sanders, Green Party, Breaking Point, AOC

In these times of uncertainty, it’s interesting to look at some of the political campaigns that have shaped, and are currently fuelling, the febrile political atmosphere we now find ourselves in.

Here The Drum takes a look back at some of the most memorable political campaigns of the last few years, from the controversial to the inspirational.


Vote Leave campaign (2016)

We’ll kick off with one of the most debated political movements of recent times, the Vote Leave campaign for the EU referendum, and its dubious Brexit bus activation. The infamous bus has launched numerous scathing copycats since.

brexit bus

Prior to the 2016 vote, the Brexiteers were out in force with a busload of evidence against the European Union, parking it right outside Westminster for all to see. Unfortunately, as it turns out, for them in the end. The campaign's questionable claim that the £350m Britain sends to the EU weekly could be repatriated to the NHS swayed some to vote Leave – but the architects of the slogan soon distanced themselves from it after their victory. The bombastic Brexiteers may have gone quiet on the topic – but that didn’t mean everyone else decided to stay silent.

Better Together Campaign (2014)

The Better Together campaign was the official opponent in the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014, and while both sides released some fairly cringeworthy ads, this one from the BT side was by far the most pilloried.

In ‘A woman makes up her mind’, we are introduced to a woman whose only concerns over the issue of sovereignty revolve around her children, her children’s children and her husband eating his cereal before work. This caricature was widely panned by viewers on all sides of the political spectrum and actually ended up being counterproductive – some voters said they crossed the leave box based on how out-of-touch they perceived the BT team to be.

Green Party

#GrownUpPolitics was a creative and successful election broadcast for the Green Party back in 2016.

The creative was a play on the popular Channel 4 reality show ‘The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds’ and reimagined famous party leaders as kids. Its aim was to highlight the squabbling and inner party politics that dominates Westminster.

The Green Party has long embraced its reputation as being an outsider to the political mainstream. This was a message hammered home in the party’s 2015 video ‘Change the Tune’.


Hopping over the pond to the UK’s closest ally and trading partner, we see that our American neighbors have found themselves caught up in their very own political frenzy. Ahead of the 2020 presidential elections, politicians of all stripes have been out in force to prove their competency for the highest office.


America has had its fair share of its infamous political figures, but few have reached the degree of notoriety as Donald Trump. Since his election, he has been the subject of mass media mockery.

This campaign video from 2018, Complicit, is straight out of the divisive Trump playbook, taking immigration as its central theme. One of Trump's tactics has been to target his political ads at over-65s on Facebook.

Democratic party

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez burst onto the political scene in 2018 when she defeated Joe Crowley to be elected representative for New York's 14th congressional district. As a former bartender, AOC as she is commonly known is the modern representative of the American Dream.

Her campaign video, 'The Courage to Change', is self-aware and taps into modern-day values of transparency and care in the community. She’s proudly unapologetic of her views and looks to unite people as opposed to causing a divide. She has proven so popular that she has gained a huge following across social media and was the protagonist of hit Netflix documentary ‘Knock Down the House’.

Similarly, we have seen Bernie Sanders re-enter the ring for the presidency after his 2016 defeat as Democratic party leader.

He is heralded as an American socialism messiah, with major appeal among young voters. His video campaign to stand for president in 2020 touches on all of his key values, profoundly socialist and unapologetic.

One half of the Internet’s favorite bromance, former vice president Joe Biden is running for presidency for the third time. In opposition to Trump’s government, Biden has returned to the race in what he calls the ‘battle for America’s soul’.

While his campaign taps into the American patriotism and nationalism, he does so in a different way from Trump. He holds up the traditional American Dream as an achievable objective for everyone and supports an inclusive US.

As both an academic and senator, Elizabeth Warren is being touted as a highly qualified candidate for the presidency. She launched her exploratory bid in 2018 to take on the issues that affect the marginalized most and has drawn much support from the media of late.

She’s a supporter of workers’ and women's rights and equal opportunity for all and is an ally to those suffering from racial discrimination. Her campaign video tracks her own education and career trajectory while calling for similar support for others.

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