Political advertising swells media coffers

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Indy Politics
Up to pounds 5m in political advertising is set to flow into the media's coffers during the general election campaign from pressure groups and trade unions seeking to define the election's agenda without actually telling the electorate how to vote.

Labour's pounds 3m advertising fund for the election has been almost doubled by non-party advertisers who promote policies sympathetic to the party.

Advertising from the TUC, the National Union of Teachers and the public service union Unison will amount to more than pounds 2m by the time the election campaign finishes.

In addition, the Dunblane Snowdrop Petition announced last week that it was spending pounds 1m on cinema advertisements to get the total hand gun ban that the Labour Party supports.

The three trade union campaigns, which use poster hoardings, cinemas and newspapers nation-wide, highlight issues such as class sizes and employee rights which the Labour Party won't cover in its own advertising. "The campaigns are independent of each other," says a source close to the Labour Party's advertising. "Obviously they are helpful, but Labour wouldn't necessarily follow those themes if the unions didn't."

The party denies it co-ordinates advertising with the unions even although Unison shares its advertising agency, BMP DDB, with Labour.

Also likely to prove helpful to the Labour Party are campaigns such as Rock The Vote, which is targeting first-time voters, and Operation Black Vote, which aims to get black and Asian voters out in 50 key seats. Neither has much money but they have been given free space in youth and music magazines.

Plugging into the Conservative side are much smaller advertisers who mainly buy whole pages in the national press. Even the larger advertisers, like the Friends of Independent Schools, which is campaigning against a Labour government that would abolish the assisted places scheme, has a budget of less than pounds 100,000. Also on the Tory side are the hunting and shooting lobbies, such as the British Field Sports Association which wants to keep fox hunting legal.

However, campaigns sympathetic to the Tories are dwarfed by the Conservatives' own advertising budget which is likely to hit pounds 15m by the end of the campaign.

More ambiguous political advertisers include the Association of Retired Persons and People Over 50, which campaigns against age discrimination, and London First, the lobbying group for London which is campaigning against funding cuts for the London Underground.

Much of the advertising will be placed in popular and mid-market newspapers, where floating voters are perceived to be found in the greatest numbers. "The general election flushes out a whole series of groups from all over the political spectrum," said Mike Ironside, advertising sales director of The Daily Mail. "Newspapers are ideally placed to benefit because of they can turn around ads at short notice".

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