Mark Wnek on advertising

Saatchi has to face reality - the Tories' ad strategy isn't working
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The Independent Online

Still six months or so to go before the next election and the Tories' chances already look deader than Jeffrey Archer's political career. A Liberal Democrat I may be, but I take little pleasure in the Tories' plight. True, the main parties are much of a muchness these days, huddled closer together around the political centre than a bunch of Girl Guides under a tree in a thunderstorm. But big, testosterone-boosting majorities can tempt party leaders to do the last thing we easy-going Brits want: make big, testosterone-fuelled decisions. Like going to war and stuff.

Still six months or so to go before the next election and the Tories' chances already look deader than Jeffrey Archer's political career. A Liberal Democrat I may be, but I take little pleasure in the Tories' plight. True, the main parties are much of a muchness these days, huddled closer together around the political centre than a bunch of Girl Guides under a tree in a thunderstorm. But big, testosterone-boosting majorities can tempt party leaders to do the last thing we easy-going Brits want: make big, testosterone-fuelled decisions. Like going to war and stuff.

To avoid embarrassment and a potentially terminal defeat next May/June, the Tories need to awaken from their stupor and grab the electorate's attention.

As chance would have it, one of the world's very best exponents of grabbing people's attention sits very nearly at Michael Howard's right hand: the legendary communications expert Lord Maurice Saatchi, joint chairman of the Tory party. He's the man whose erstwhile ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, played a critical part in the rise and maintenance of the Thatcher regime, producing probably the greatest party political advertisement of all time (apart from some crackers in post-war Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein's Iraq), the poster with the headline "Labour isn't working", and its visual of an endless dole queue toppling over like a row of dominoes.

Currently, however, the ad agency that Lord Saatchi now heads, M&C Saatchi, has not officially entered the fray. What Tory ad/marketing activity there is is apparently being handled by an M&C subsidiary called Immediate Sales. Ideas on the table are quite radical, such as text messaging Tory communications to mobile phones. Radical but, er, a bit weedy.

Don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of direct and customer-related marketing, activities any right-thinking adperson would consider denigrated by its collective title "below the line".But while I can see how text messaging appeals to younger voters - a vast franchise where the Tories have barely a toe-hold - it's still a discreet medium, almost apologetic in this political context. Labour took over from the Tories by creating a raucous movement (dressed in, among other things, borrowed Tory clothes).

Admittedly, Michael Howard, an unmistakeable whiff of Eau d'homme d'hier lingering about him, may not be the best front-man to hang a new movement on. But with Iraq, stealth taxes, children being stabbed in schools, city centres rife with binge-fuelled brawls, Britain being subsumed into L'Europe, interest rates up etc etc, never was the Labour Party - and, particularly, its leader, who has at the very least been winged, if not shot down - more ripe for succumbing to a new movement.

Text messaging, direct mail or the polite 'scuse me of a party political broadcast won't trouble Swizz Tony and his comfy three-point lead in the opinion polls. Sticking the £19.7m or so allotted to each party for spending in the year to the election on a bold and ballsy, utterly single-minded, highly controversial, nationwide poster campaign might.

Labour, the brand leader, will take no chances on doing anything clever that could in any way rebound on them. Labour ad guru Trevor Beattie will be doing his fcuking nut by next May/June, but he's unlikely to be given the opportunity to do any edgy, award-winning stuff.

The Tories, on the other hand, are in a position to prove how powerful advertising can be and how immediate in its effect. I would go almost exclusively for posters. Posters are the medium of political passion and of mass movements. Passion and mass are the two things the Tories most clearly lack. Posters are also the medium of choice for getting to a nation's youth and a nation's grass roots, the men and women on the Clapham omnibus. Posters are there for anyone to see and deface. Posters are cool. And if there's one thing the party of blue rinses and Bufton-Tuftons could do with, it's an injection of cool.

Anyway, that's enough free advice for that lot. I'm saving my best stuff for Charlie Kennedy.

You don't have to be young to be a guerrilla

A recurring theme of mine is the need for advertisers to find new ways to reach consumers, as the old ways - TV and press ads, direct mail, etc - become too predictable, expensive, or fragmented to reach a viable number of the right people.

An old concept that will increasingly make a comeback in this climate is "guerrilla marketing". This is exactly what it sounds like: stealthy, sudden, unexpected. It's what many of the "new media" companies, most notably Naked, practice so effectively. New-media folk are the cutting-edge thinkers in advertising - they come up with all kinds of new ways to bring brands to our attention, like hiring the space on the soles of Julius Francis's boots during his fight against Mike Tyson.

The value of delivering advertising messages to over-sophisticated consumers when they least expect it, and their guard is down, is immeasurable. The latest, and most surprising, exponent of guerrilla marketing is the venerable Alex Hay, the BBC1 golf commentator.

There we were, last Sunday, engrossed in Ernie Els' tussle with Lee Westwood, when Hay mentioned that Els had, a few years back, brought out the definitive golf training video. I'm sure I wasn't the only crap golfer who rushed to order said video. And yesterday, Ernie Els - How to Build a Classic Swing dropped through my letter box, bearing the legend: "Narrated by Alex Hay".

And they say that guerrilla marketing is a young man's game.

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