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Rishi’s running but this poster isn’t – the real story behind that D-Day attack ad

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By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

June 10, 2024 | 6 min read

No, this isn’t the work of the Labour party. The Drum hears from the Aussie adman behind one of the defining images of the UK general election campaign.

Ben Golik's billboard

D-Day mock-up billboard / Ben Golik

Rishi Sunak’s fateful decision to leave a major international ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings has become the headline moment of the UK election campaign so far. Since Thursday’s abrupt exit, the prime minister has faced widespread derision and been immortalized in what some are describing as the most memorable British political attack ad since Saatchi & Saatchi’s ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ poster from 1978.

While the similarity to the former is obvious (and deliberate), there’s one major difference. This attack ad isn’t real. No, despite what some observers may have assumed, Labour isn’t working... on this. The unofficial ad was, in fact, dreamed up independently by Ben Golik, a creative director at Uncommon.

Posted to X just after 1pm on Friday, Golik’s mock-up billboard featured an AI-generated image of Sunak running away off to the side of the poster with the stark typography ‘He left them on the beaches’ followed by ‘Lest we forget, come July 4’ in smaller print – in reference to the upcoming general election. It has since gone on to amass 1.2m views from all over the world.

Here, according to a somewhat stunned Golik, is a timeline of how it transpired.

‘There hasn’t been a killer blow’

As the country woke up on Friday morning to the headlines surrounding Sunak’s blunder, and the prime minister’s subsequent apology, Golik was scrolling through his X feed and started thinking back to the good political advertising of years gone by. Before joining Uncommon, the creative previously worked at M&C Saatchi – the ad agency that famously penned ‘New Labour, New Danger’ for the Conservative Party during the run-up to the 1997 general election.

“This election has been quite interesting,” Golik tells The Drum. “I wouldn’t say it’s been standout for advertising or for any particular messaging from any of the parties. There hasn’t been a killer blow.”

Golik says that Sunak’s actions were baffling and almost like ‘self-sabotage.’ As an Australian himself, the creative says even he understands how intrinsic D-Day is within Britain.

“The first that came to mind were the Churchill words, ‘We should fight them on the beaches.’ With that, it fell into place quite quickly,” he explains. “It’s not hard to write a good headline when you’re referencing Churchill, who himself was referencing Shakespeare. I’m standing on good shoulders there.” He opened up Illustrator and typed the headline ‘He left them on the beaches’ right off the bat. There were no other iterations.

It then took him about five minutes to mock up an image of Sunak running away on AI image generator Midjourney.

In terms of typography and layout, Golik knew that he wanted to make a very deliberate reference to Saatchi & Saatchi’s famous ‘Labour isn’t working’ line from 1978. “Almost as a call back to that sort of political advertising of before,” he adds.

But he also didn’t want to put a logo that was affiliated to any party on it because he wanted it to cut through and be more of a comment on the prime minister’s actions. “I’m not a fan of scam advertising, where they put a logo on and claim it’s from someone,” he says. “I didn’t want to do that.”

Nils sent fire emojis

The first thing Golik did after creating his quickfire mock-up was WhatsApp it to his boss, Nils Leonard, the co-founder of Uncommon. “That was the process. I mean, thank God Uncommon is so process-light and empowers people to get on with things. So, I sent it and got lots of fire emojis back from Nils, and then got on with it.” They were both aware that they had to get it out then and there; trying to book a media site and prolonging publishing would have diminished its timeliness.

Golik says he is very aware that the advertising industry has a love-hate relationship with ‘scam work’ which is why he wanted to be clear right from the beginning that the idea isn’t running in real life. “The poster is a mock-up,” he says. “But the idea is very real.”

But of course, when an ad is shared as often as Golik’s has been, retweeted endlessly beyond its original source and shorn of its context and disclaimer, the lines between what’s real and what isn’t soon become blurred.

Posters have authority...even if the ad industry is divided on scam work

Golik says that putting it out in poster form gave the work some authority, even if it wasn’t real. His original post on X has been shared nearly five thousand times, including by the likes of Carol Volderman and people urging the Labour party to actually adopt the work officially. Golik says that Labour election candidates have liked and shared the post, too.

“I would be very happy if a party wanted to run it, but does it need that to legitimize it?” he asks.

“People talk a lot about the problems with politicizing certain issues, and maybe this one was just the right side of the line because Rishi had already politicized the issue by returning to do an election interview. But I think this work stayed at the right side of the line by not taking that and making a political affiliation out of it, so it didn’t look opportunistic by Labour, for example. It was just a more personal commentary that resonated with people.”

Fake billboard by Ben Golik
Fake billboard by Ben Golik
Fake billboard by Ben Golik
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