If Boris mocks advertising, should advertising then mock Boris?

Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He was a founder of BETC London, has run agencies in London, Amsterdam and the US and has worked on brands including Johnnie Walker, PlayStation and Sony Ericsson.

Boris and Vote Leave

Advertising is such an easy business, you make up some over claim about your product, stick it on a poster and then you punt it out there for everyone to buy your product. Sales go up, you may even get a bonus. But when the product arrives and it doesn’t actually do what you say you then you have a big problem. Because to use advertising to mislead people leaves you open to the huge vault of anger when people feel they have been properly duped. But people are a forgiving lot and so often if the duping is an accident, a misunderstanding, then they will forgive you.

However, the problem with advertising is that it is entirely deliberate. You cannot claim it is accident, and when you feel deliberately duped you feel very angry indeed.

So when Boris, Farage and Duncan-Smith calmly tell you the day after you bought their ‘Leave’ product that the clear and famous ad claim of giving £350m back to the NHS is not actually true then it’s extremely serious for both the people who voted on that message and industry as a whole, because they mock the people and they mock industry that generates £17bn of revenue to UK and they mock because they believe that there is no obligation to be burdened with the truth.

Yet the rest of the £17bn industry is very much burdened with the truth. Tax payers spend millions of pounds a year on organisations like Clearcast that force us to prove claims are true and any significant breach can be extremely costly.

Boris et al have decided to mock us all by publishing a bare faced lie in order to win the most important vote in the history of this country. Will the same befall him?

I have had the previous pleasure of mocking Boris when I generated the advertising for Ken Livingstone’s final mayoral campaign. My agency created a lovely cartoon version of Boris called Bo Bo and the first time we ran the ad, exposing rises in tube fares, the poll's swung in Ken’s favour. We created more and it was clear that Bo Bo was very mockable, and that he does not need much work to be seen by the public a cartoon buffoon. But it is very difficult to make it consistently stick. There are two reasons:

Firstly, Boris not just mocks us but he mocks himself and the British love people who mock themselves. Having once being caught out lying he masterfully exited the situation on air, one which would have sunk almost any other politician, by converting the lie into an admission it was just “a light sand-papering of the truth”.

A masterful answer that mocks the importance of the implication and mocking himself. I like Frankie Howard and I liked that answer.

Secondly, Boris has extremely powerful friends in the media. The Livingstone election was lost for a variety of reasons but one obvious and impossible challenge was he never needed any advertising because he would always be promised a front page, on his terms, in the media. Even now, if you compare the lampooning that Boris has had on Facebook vs the newspapers, it’s as if we are different planets. So do not assume that he will pay a price for mocking advertising.

So the question that I have is that perhaps best way to reverse this situation is for ad agencies to mock Boris back. To give him a 'light sand-papering' for eroding trust in our industry and duping millions of people.

If you run an agency and you want participate let me know.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @MJCharltonesq

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