The Conservatives' new online ad campaign starts with a question: "Who do you think this Government should give more support to?" The gif file then cuts to an image of a family with Von Trapp good looks and teeth that dazzle, and the caption "hard-working families". We then see a single man with a goatee sitting, feet up, on a sofa – the words "or people who won't work" hovering, malignly, like a thundercloud above his head.
The imagery is meant to bring into stark relief the difference between those with their noses to the grindstone and those with their noses in the Radio Times' daytime TV schedule – and, of course, convince us that the Government's way is the right way. Only problem is, both these pictures are stock images, model-posed photos acquired from photo agencies, which causes a few problems for CCHQ's latest.
For it seems that the "family" in the ad is very hardworking – almost excessively so. One feels one ought to tell them to put their feet up, as they are not just putting in the hours for the Tories – but also on Danone yoghurt vouchers and a Christian home-schooling CD, on a poster enumerating the benefits of cod-liver oil and on a rather retro-looking poster for a Spanish dentist.
The ubiquitous family was spotted by Simon Briggs, an app developer, who started a Tumblr page dedicated to their toing-and-froing yesterday morning (hardworkingtoryfamily.tumblr.com). "It looked so obviously like a stock photo, so amateur, that I thought it would be amusing to see who else had used the image," Briggs says. "So I had a look on Google image." By 3pm yesterday he'd found 20 adverts. He will not, he says, be voting Tory.
Of course, this is not the first time stock pictures in a party's ad has left politicos red-faced. The Republicans in the US have rather a monopoly on this type of thing. Mitt Romney's eerie "praire fire of debt" poster was also used in an Organic Valley butter ad and a Republican "who shares your values" video featured the same stained glass windows as a Why Be Catholic DVD. Closer to home, in 2009, a BNP poster featuring an elderly couple, a doctor and three workmen who were all apparently voting BNP, turned out actually to be an Italian couple, an American actor and three American models. None of them could vote in the UK.
It is puzzling that the Conservative Party, with its legion of spin doctors and former ad men, fell into the same trap. Neil Christie, of the agency Wieden + Kennedy, says it's the name of the game: "We always try to avoid using stock imagery in campaigns where possible, as the creative is always more relevant. If unavoidable (for budgetary reasons) we'd request previous-use information."
They may be cut-rate then and they may produce a high shiny-teeth quotient in your ads, but unless you want your "voters" to look like they strive so much they are doing shifts PRing dental clinics all over Spain – stock pictures are best left out of the political discourse.