Election '97: Spitting Image: Tory attack on Blair mimics famous US ele ction cover

Bad reception for new ad in industry which trades in anti-German feeling
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The Independent Online
The Conservative Party's latest ad portraying Tony Blair as a puppet of Germany's Chancellor Kohl is a straight copy of one of the most famous images in the world of advertising and design.

The party first claimed that the inspiration for the ad, which has already attracted 30 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, came from a sketch by the Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine. If that is the case, then his ownership of the advertising industry trade magazine Campaign has probably rubbed off.

The image in fact comes from a cover for an edition of US Esquire magazine in the late Sixties by the magazine's then art editor George Lois.

The original features Hubert Humphrey, the US Democratic presidential candidate in 1968, sitting in the lap of the retiring President Lyndon Johnson.

Humphrey had been LBJ's vice-president and the Esquire cover was emblematic of Humphrey's unwillingness to come out from under LBJ's influence and condemn past policies on the Vietnam war.

"Everybody in advertising knows that image," said Dave Trott, partner in the advertising agency Walsh Trott Chick Smith. "It's an okay image, but it is informed by an idea of advertising that went out of fashion in the Fifties."

"It assumes that the public are absolute idiots who believe whatever you put in your ads. Instead you have to find out what people can be made to believe before you do an ad. I don't think many people will fall for something this blatant."

The ASA said yesterday it would refer the ad to its adjudication committee for a judgement on the 30 complaints it had received by telephone and fax during yesterday. The ASA upheld complaints last year about the Tory "Demon Eyes" ad.

However an ASA spokesman said he doubted there would be a similar adjudication in this case because the puppet ad is "not in the same league". The ASA was concerned about Demon Eyes because it represented Mr Blair as sinister. Labour said yesterday it would not be complaining to the ASA.

John Major defended the advertisement: "The concept that the leader of Germany or that the leader of France or the leader of Britain could actually say, `here I am going off to Amsterdam, I've changed my red flag for a white flag, here are my surrenders, please can I have a seat, if you don't have a seat I'll have a knee', what nonsense."

However, the pro-European Tory MP Edwina Currie condemned the advert as "puerile". She added: "We should not be portraying Chancellor Kohl as an ogre of any kind."

The shadow Foreign Secretary Robin Cook condemned the ad as pathetic and said it illustrated how desperate the Conservatives had become: "What makes the poster so pathetic is that Tony Blair is in full command of his party. In stark contrast John Major has given up any pretence he leads his."

Exploiting British anti-German feeling and stereotypes has become something of a trend in advertising. Most famously, an ad for Carling Black Label mocked the German's supposed fondness for getting to sun loungers first. Even the Germanic-sounding beer Lowenbrau was sold last year with a poster campaign mocking the Germans' reputed lack of humour. Ironically the German lager Beck's has been running a campaign about the threat to German beer from an over powerful EU.