Visitors to the Labour Party website were yesterday confronted with a stark new intro page – the latest salvo in an increasingly fierce advertising war with the Tories.
But under the Party's most recent poster ("Building a foundation" next to a photo of the Prime Minister; "Wearing it" next to the infamous, allegedly airbrushed shot of Cameron) came something new; an invitation to us, the lowly public, to create Labour's next ad campaign.
It won't be the first time in this election that voters have tried their hand at political advertising. The pastiches of the "We can't go on like this" have made Mydavidcameron.com a runaway success. So while the Tories have turned to their old friends, Saatchi & Saatchi – whose new Brown-baiting campaign ("I doubled the tax rate for the poor. Vote for me") is also being parodied online – Labour's latest move seeks to control the satire. So how much fun is it to get involved? I spent four hours yesterday finding out.
The DIY site starts with a mind-bogglingly detailed brief. Submissions must highlight "Labour's public service credentials" and Cameron's "lack of substance", while, commands the rubric, staying simple and employing strong images as well as humour. So how hard can it be? Very, is the answer. Because crucially, Labour's twist on the spoofed ad doesn't provide any template on which to base my ideas. The wannabe political image-maker must begin with a blank page.
First, like any good ad creative, I take my fellow blue-sky thinkers (two uninterested colleagues) out to a breakout space (the canteen) for a brainstorming session (a rambling chat over chips). We decide to go for the jugular. One idea envisions a tiny body trying to walk into No 10; on top of the body is a massive head. "He doesn't fit in here," the slogan would read.
It's not quite there. Struggling, we find inspiration in a campaign frequently voted as the most influential of the 20th century; Volkswagen's striking 1959 "Think Small" ad turned an industry on its head when those words were used in juxtaposition with a tiny image of a Beetle. Underneath, in copy Don Draper would be proud of, the text convinced consumers small can be good. So, how about turning that around to say that, in politics, small (as in cuts and small-mindedness) is bad?
Hands still zinging after so many high fives, I get down to business. I'd need a picture of Cameron to replace the Beetle, a Labour logo over the "VW" and some snappy words to stick under the tag line. But without Photoshop to play with, it was left to Microsoft Paint to realise my vision. In total, my ad took about two hours of copying, pasting, tracing and touching up. I've uploaded the results to the Labour site, where communications bods will publish the best submissions on "digital adboards" (whatever they are) this weekend. I won't hold my breath. Simon Usborne
Beyond space – and Strictly
The second man on the moon brought up the rear again with his debut performance on America's Strictly Come Dancing equivalent, Dancing With The Stars, last week. While the judges gushed about the inspiring achievements of the 80-year-old former astronaut, they only awarded a meagre 14 points between them to his Cha-cha-cha. He danced, said Len Goodman, as if he still had his moon boots on. Surely there are more appropriate shows in which the Nasa man could make guest appearances. If he must do reality TV, why not Big Brother (familiar with claustrophobic living conditions) or I'm A Celebrity... (laughs in the face of hostile environments)? Alternatively, he could co-present the brilliant Wonders of the Solar System with dreamy physicist Brian Cox. And would it be too much to ask JJ Abrams to cast him in the next Star Trek movie? ...As a Klingon? That would be awesome. Tim Walker
Real men don't do blousons
Before his inauguration, President Obama had the likes of P Diddy and Paul Smith sketching fantasy suits for him to wear. In the end, he chose a Hart Schaffner Marx ensemble, showing chic savvy and sartorial know-how.
Imagine, then, the horror at the pictures emerging from Afghanistan this weekend. Obama may have won through on healthcare and the arms deal with Russia, but he lost our vote with that leather bomber jacket.
The baggy, saggy, shiny blouson. The presidential badge emblazoned on the chest. The multi-pocketed beast that wouldn't look out of place on Paul Calf. With a sad fashion shake of the head, we wonder who Obama thinks he is? George W Bush?
When the former president presented Gordon Brown with something similar in 2007, there was uproar. No doubt Sarah Brown furtively hid it at the back of the wardrobe.
The era of the casual leader is over: what began with Tony Blair's denim shirt ended this week with David Cameron's odd all-black leisurewear combo. The voter wants a suave man in a suit as sharp as his rhetoric.
Which is why it was so disappointing to see Barack in his blouson: it's a coat for men who want to feel important. Perhaps he worried that the troops would think him a liberal pansy without it. Harriet Walker