SELLING THE UNIONISTS

Ulster Unionists, are by tradition the people who say No - No deals, No talks, No surrender. Today their negativism seems to be losing them a PR battle with the Republicans. We asked six advertising agencies for their solutions

GERRY ADAMS, it would seem, is a dab hand at public relations, at least in Ireland and America. John Hume is almost universally admired, and his views are heard with respect. The Unionists of Northern Ireland, by contrast, tend to provoke irritation and even mockery outside their own community; they are the image-maker's nightmare. For all their professions of undying loyalty to the British crown, they are seen by the British public as dour, stubborn, bigoted, inarticulate (though excessively noisy) and tribal. Outside Britain, they are often portrayed as arrogant, selfish colonists.

This image is a caricature, for the Unionists have a case that can be powerful, even moving. They are the majority community in Northern Ireland, an entity that has existed longer than about half the world's sovereign states. As a point of view, Ulster Unionism is older than the Labour Party, and indeed a Protestant community has existed in Ulster for as long as the white man has been in America. This is not some remote colonial outpost, where a flimsy imperial ascendancy class is clinging to its privileges, seized in the reign of Queen Victoria.

The Unionists want no more than to go on being British, and they feel they are entitled to that after demonstrating their loyalty in two world wars, most notably at the Somme. And loyalty for them has not been an easy option. For decades they have lived with a neighbour which formally laid claim to their territory, and over the past 25 years it was they who bore the brunt of the IRA's war (the so-called mainland campaigns were minor affairs by comparison).

Such views are rarely heard. Unionist leaders have never been ones to woo the British public, preferring to keep their politicking for Westminster. To be frank, if they wanted to woo they would hardly be well-equipped. James Molyneaux, Ian Paisley and most of their cohorts do not seem to belong to the television age, when salesmanship, fireside manner and appearance count for so much. in politics. What if they changed their approach? What if they set out, using all the artifices of modern politics, to win the hearts and minds of the British public? Would it - could it - change the character of the debate?

We asked six advertising agencies how they might handle a "mainland" billboard campaign for the Unionists. The brief was to present them as a modern political party, with a cause that needed to be heard by the people across the water in Britain. The results are accompanied by the commentary of individual agencies on how each of them tackled the brief.

Words: Brian Cathcart

Research: Peter Victor

Walton & Wiggins

Clients: Alamo Car Rental, Thresher Wine Shops, MGM Cinemas. "Shifting the negative perceptions of the Unionists is a hard task, though they have an historical allegiance to Britain and they wish this to continue. In essence, they would justifiably claim that the six counties of Ulster are as British as any six in England. After all, how would someone living in Surrey feel about being annexed to a foreign country - like Ireland?"

Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising

Clients: The Conservative Party, British Airways, Dixons, the Metropolitan Police, Procter & Gamble. The ad shows the Rev Ian Paisley as black, drawing parallels with Nelson Mandela. There are three quotations which might have come typically from the ANC, the PLO or the Bosnians but, on closer inspection, are seen to be from the Unionists. "Our approach was not to try and re-create the Ulster Unionists but rather to develop a positioning which facilitates them getting a fairer hearing for their message. Ian Paisley can be easily made into a black man using the latest video and photographic techniques."

Barker & Ralston

Clients: Abbey National, Saab GB, E&J Gallo Winery. Barker & Ralston based its campaign on the massive vote registered in favour of the Union in the 1970s. "We are trying to ensure that people recognise that the Ulster Unionists are on the side of democracy because they represent the majority. There was a very short time available for this exercise and we had to go for a direct appeal to people's emotions."

Holder Wilson Pearce & Bailey

Clients: NatWest Bank, HarperCollins. HWPB came up with a series of ads with the slogan: "Ulster Unionists, British and Proud of It." One ad that is not shown here had two Scotsmen in kilts ("We're just as individual. We're just as British"). "Basically, our copy would talk about the Unionist point of view, its value system and the threat presented to it by a united Ireland."

TBWA

Clients: Wonderbra, Chivas Regal. "The approach was to key into how upset people in Britain feel about Europe; to say: `that's how we feel and that's why sometimes we're unreasonable'."

Cowan Kemsley Taylor

Clients: Brintons Carpets, Reckitt & Colman: "The aim is to shift attention away from politicians, particularly Mr Paisley, and towards the ordinary people who vote to stay part of Britain."

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