Ian Burrell: Are the Tories trying to sell a party – or just a leader?

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In the history of Tory advertising campaigns, yesterday's homage to David Cameron hardly ranks alongside such slogans as 1979's election-winning "Labour Isn't Working" or even 1992's "Tax Bombshell".

Those two memorable lines were the work of the Saatchi brothers, Maurice and Charles, with whom the Conservatives ended a 30-year relationship in 2006. The new work, featuring a giant image of the Tory leader, photographed in an open-necked shirt, doesn't carry the Conservative party logo. Cameron himself is, effectively, the logo.

The advertising agency which produced the posters, Euro RSCG, part of the French media empire Havas, was last night under instructions not to discuss the strategy behind the work.

But senior advertising industry figures suggested that the impetus for the campaign had come primarily from Conservative Central Office, rather than the agency. Dave Trott, founder of CST, said the ads would have little impact with undecided voters. "These posters are supposed to be revolutionary because Cameron isn't wearing a tie and because there's no logo. Do you really think that's going to make a blind bit of difference and shift a single voter? This has come from Central Office, you can't blame the agency. It's from people who think they know about branding and advertising."

To be fair to the Tory strategist Steve Hilton, he has a background in advertising, working with Saatchi & Saatchi, and then at the brothers' breakaway agency M&C Saatchi. The Tory account was moved to Euro RSCG largely on the strength of a poster for The Sun newspaper, which ended up as a front page. It showed Gordon Brown as Winston Churchill, sticking two fingers up at a European referendum, alongside the slogan: "Never have so few decided so much for so many."

The message of yesterday's campaign involved trying to combine fears of Labour overspending with reassurance about Tory cuts: "We can't go on like this. I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS."

Commentators were unimpressed by the use of the first person, echoing the cult of personality associated with Tony Blair. The poster reminded Channel 4 News political editor Gary Gibbon of the imagery of the Politburo. And the work may not even succeed in Tory heartlands: Philip Johnston, leader writer for The Daily Telegraph, said Tory managers seemed to have "decided that Cameron is bigger than the party".

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