Election 1997: Five minutes is a very long time in advertising

Graham Hinton, chairman of Bates Dorland, reviews election broadcasts
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Graham Hinton, chairman of Bates Dorland, reviews election broadcasts

There was a time when Party Political Broadcasts had just one Talking Head, and all the parties revived this last week - bar the Liberal Democrats.

Sir James Goldsmith spoke from behind a Big Man's Big Desk. Mr Major sat alone in a chintzy room. And Mr Blair eventually settled into a chair.

Sir James struggled manfully to stop himself from thumping the desk. But at least he came across as the sort of chap to arm-wrestle the next Prime Minister into giving us a Referendum.

Mr Blair's film tried everything to keep our attention through five minutes - cute camera angles and what we adfolk (rather obviously) call "The Idea": the element of the film that gives the message structure and holds the interest. Cue the bulldog.

Mr Major chose to dump the planned broadcast - apparently off his own bat - for a direct appeal from his dark hotel room. He used his five minutes to buttonhole the 600 or so Conservative candidates and explain the real story of EMU to them. This was, to be fair, the most unusual ad of the week, in that it chose to speak to so few in front of so many. Unfortunately, the PM's performance was slightly stilted compared to that of the passionate leader we had seen at the morning press conference.

Only the Lib Dems seem to have learnt that five minutes is a long time in advertising. Even cinema commercials rarely make it to two. It's not that people can't concentrate for that long; it's just that nowadays voters are not gathered round the set hanging on your every word. You have earn the right to sell to them; you can't just talk at them, you have to capture their imagination with an idea. Here the idea is simple enough - get the people who really know their man to talk of what they admire in him to create a platform for Paddy to talk briefly to us (not at us) about his priorities

If Kinnock The Movie (1987) and Brixton Boy (1992) were the first real advertising Party Politicals, this one finally broke the link with Big Talk of Big Men behind Big Desks. And unlike the other parties' efforts, it made five minutes whizz by.