Wobbly Tories recall creative guru

Election Countdown: Paul McCann on how Charles Saatchi is now writing the slogan for a new poster
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The Conservative Party is re-living its famous "wobbly Thursday" in the run-up to the 1987 general election after a crisis over its advertising campaign.

The party has called in Charles Saatchi, the reclusive creative guru of the Saatchi brothers, to write his first slogan for the latest poster campaign launched this week: "Britain is Booming Don't let Labour Blow It."

Sources close to the party's advertising agency admit that previous posters in this campaign have not been effective because of a lack of focus, so it is returning to a tried and tested formula.

After a rogue poll in the week before the 1987 election, Margaret Thatcher called in adviser Sir Tim Bell and Frank Lowe, of Lowe-Howard Spink, over the head of Saatchi and Saatchi to create the slogan "Life's Better with the Conservatives - Don't let Labour Ruin It" which was used in a massive pounds 2.5m newspaper campaign for the last week of the election.

Although this week's new poster was created by Charles Saatchi, sources close to the party suggest that by harking back to the 1987 strategy, it proves that Sir Tim Bell is in charge of the Tory campaign again.

"It is a proven strategy and is an effective piece of communication - as the 1987 election clearly showed," said John Banks, managing director of advertising agency Banks Hoggins O'Shea, who acted as an adviser to the 1987 campaign.

There was a falling out between party chairman Brian Mawhinney and the team advising him on advertising - Sir Tim Bell, Lord Saatchi and Lord Chadlington (formerly Peter Gummer) - two weeks ago about the merits of the weeping lion and family crying a red tears posters. Polling had shown that both campaigns were unpopular and unconvincing. That prompted a rethink on advertising and the first pre-testing of posters with focus groups.

However, even the pre-tested "Tony & Bill" poster has been condemned as confusing. "This is the least defaced poster they have had," said a poster industry insider. "It seems to be because no one can work out if its actually for or against Labour."

The new poster has a clearer message. "It looks like they have started on to the right area at last," said a senior Labour Party source. "But it is too late."

The Labour Party's agency, BMP DDB, is understood to holding back its major advertising thrust until after Easter.

Only the Tories' "demon eyes" advertisement has so far attracted much attention.

"The party is bankrupt of ideas and it would seem its advertising agency is as well," said Gerry Moira, creative director of rival advertising agency Publicis.

"Both campaigns' advertising have been disappointing and unfocused. No one's imagination has been captured, we've just been berated and threatened."

The party's newest advertising also borrows from a Courage beer poster - also created by M&C Saatchi - which used the colours red and blue to make to make a series of two-pronged attacks on northern ale.