Claire Beale On Advertising

Not-flash Gordon is just the man to get the party going at Saatchis
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The Independent Online

It's a delicious story. The ad agency that brought Thatcher to power. The ad agency that Thatcher's government made into a household name. The ad agency that created the seminal "Labour Isn't Working" campaign. Now advertising Labour. Packaging Gordon Brown.

Saatchi & Saatchi has its hands back on the country's hottest political account. Not the Tory Party this time. Labour.

You have to reckon that irony played a part in Labour's decision to select Saatchis. The beauty of appointing the agency that turned Thatcherism into the brand of the 1980s will not have been missed by anyone involved in the pitch. Did Saatchis start out with an advantage, just because picking them would be such a marvellous two fingers to the Tories and a wonderful PR coup? I hope so.

Either way, that wouldn't have swung it. Brown needs the best behind him and this will have been a tough fight: Saatchis beat Beattie McGuinness Bungay (among others), whose creative chief, Trevor Beattie, has had a long and fruitful relationship with the party. To Saatchi watchers, it's not obvious why they won. This is not a great creative agency. It's not a great agency, full stop. But it's an agency that needed to win. The new group chief executive, Robert Senior, went in there a few weeks ago prepared to make some tough decisions, particularly about the senior line-up. Skins have been saved (for the moment).

Of course, the Saatchis of 2007 is a far cry from the burgeoning agency that helped to thrust Thatcher to power in 1979. Back then, it was an independent company with high ambitions, fuelled by the creative and business talents of Charles and Maurice Saatchi and slavering for growth. Now Saatchi & Saatchi (minus the brothers since 1994) is a bloated international division of the mighty Publicis Groupe, struggling for an identity and point of difference in the UK market.

So Saatchis needs some good news. Labour won't make the agency rich (political parties have gnat's arse budgets and strenuous demands), but it could change its fortunes. It will definitely put the agency back on the map, get some confidence going.

And, judging by some of the work Saatchis pitched with, Labour has hit a hitherto undiscovered creative seam: a humble Brown, alongside the line "Not flash, just Gordon". Very nice. Creative director Kate Stanners led the pitch with Senior. Full credit.

Let's not get carried away though. Since Saatchis was hitched to Fallon in the new SSF group, its T-Mobile and Comet clients are rumoured to be unhappy; Fallon handles Orange and Asda. And if Labour pushes for an early election, Saatchis will be utterly absorbed in the task at a time when it also needs to be reassuring existing clients.

Winning the Labour business is just the start. Brown's challenge (Saatchis' challenge) is to rejuvenate a largely disillusioned party and find a viable way of closing the door on all that has become unpalatable about New Labour without overtly criticising his predecessor.

So how do you market Gordon Brown? If the "not flash" line is anything to go by, Labour's approach will be to ditch the hyperbole and focus on Brown's integrity. By implication, being "not flash" distances Brown from the Blair era and paves the way for a rebranding of the party. It even suggests a sense of humour.

You can bet there'll be plenty of new-media tricks employed. Forget the old reliance on mass media; the next election will be fought on much more personal communications fronts. Expect the web to come centre stage.

And, it's already been said, perhaps Brown's appeal is not that far from Thatcher's after all: principles, clarity, leadership. That's not a bad brief for an agency and a prime minister looking to make their mark.

Mind you, Saatchis' challenge is not just about Brown, it's about Britain. Moody Britain. Apparently, we're a bunch of crabby buggers, irascible, gloomy. Brown might empathise, but his election campaign will have to tackle the fact that we Brits are feeling disenchanted and angry.

According to research from McCann Erickson, only 6 per cent of Brits feel happy, and only 3 per cent are satisfied. Sure, we're hard to please. But we're feeling pretty bad. And Labour must step up, shoulder some blame, offer some solutions.

We're most sad about the loss of respect in society, and a loss of British identity. Some 83 per cent of us agree that "people seem generally angrier nowadays"; race relations, crime and terrorism are the chief causes of our malcontent.

Mind you, Brown will be pleased to hear that the departure of Tony Blair has made one-third of us happy, and a good economy and less crime would help lift our spirits.

Of course, this being advertising, McCanns hasn't stopped there. It's found a spin for all of this: we're "arking". Arking is retreating into our own personal worlds (or arks). We're creating a personal haven, " selecting elements of our lives that we want to protect from physical and psychological harm". I know, I know, it all sounds like advertising blather. And it's not as scary as it appears; apparently "arks" can be your local pub, your favourite mug, your hairdresser, your cat.

And all this is good news for those brands that create stability in an unstable world. Heinz, Marmite, McVities – these are ark brands, offering reassurance and continuity.

So there you go, Saatchi & Saatchi. The answer to the Labour Party's brief surely lies in making Gordon an ark brand: reassuring, stable, comforting. But with a smile.

Every year, the country's best designers and advertising creatives come together in the rarified atmosphere of the Royal College of Arts senior common room, where – among the Hockneys and Emins – they toast the new president of the D&AD.

D&AD is the charity set up to champion creative excellence in advertising and design, to educate and to nurture talent. It's a world-renowned organisation whose creative accolades (the Yellow pencil or the rare, career-defining Black Pencil) are a global gold standard.

Its new president, Simon Waterfall from Poke, embodies all this 21st-century style. He's the youngest president ever, fully digital, and undoubtedly the first president to have regularly worn wedding dresses and pearls to work (a sartorial statement that seems to be more about challenging prejudices than a love of crinoline).

Waterfall plans to get D&AD digitised, with an online archive of work that can be an educational and inspirational resource for creatives and students worldwide. But fans of the famous D&AD Annual, called simply The Book in hushed tones by those in the know, need not worry. Agency shelves will continue to buckle under these hefty tomes for years to come.

Beale's best in show: vodafone (BBH)

I love the idea of an ad that's so filmic that the watchdogs demand it carries a "this is an advertisement" health warning – just in case you got confused and thought this was a programme. Which you wouldn't, of course, because the programmes aren't this well acted, directed and produced.

The surprising thing is that this is an ad for Vodafone. Vodafone doesn't do good ads. Or at least it didn't until it found Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Vodafone has years of advertising abuse to detox from. It's going to take time, but BBH is on the case.

The conceit is basically Groundhog Day. Office guy tries to find a work/life balance, skipping off at lunchtime to meet his girlfriend – but when he gets to the restaurant he inexplicably finds himself back at his desk. Ad infinitum. Or at least until he discovers the joy of mobile internet.

So he's liberated from his office and finally gets the girl, though it's not entirely clear whether he then spends their romantic lunch fiddling with his mobile toolkit.

Like most mobile ads, the message is a generic one: mobile internet is good. It's not a product differentiator. But good mobile advertising is a differentiator; most of it is pretty forgettable. Simply by standing out, Vodafone gets an edge.

Claire Beale is the editor of Campaign magazine

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