Three lessons from Mad Men and Bad Men

What we can learn from Mad Men & Bad Men

For those who are yet to come across it, Sam Delaney has written a wonderful book on political advertising in the UK – Mad Men & Bad Men, What Happened When British Politics Met Advertising (spoiler alert – political ads were made).

It’s a fun, gossipy, backroom glimpse at how political advertising has developed in the UK and definitely worth a read (and not just because there’s a brief mention of the boss, Colin Byrne).

Here are three things that stood out for me from the book as a whole:

  1. Negative works in political advertising – but only when you do it right. We’ve already had a fantastic blog from Benedict Pringle on this subject so I won’t rehash his points. But a subsidiary point is that you can’t just fire off any old negative missile and expect to score a hit. Political advertising works best when it takes an existing idea and plays it back in visual form – think Labour Isn’t Working, or even the ‘in the pocket’ ads the Conservative’s are enjoying using this time out.Contrast with the Blair ‘demon eyes’ poster from 1997 – it managed to catch the exact opposite of the public mood at the time and further cemented the Tory ‘nasty party’ image.
  1. PR is more important than advertising (as Weber Shandwick’s Engagement Index has shown). Obviously this is a sentence we would write in any context, but in the context of political advertising, it is clear that advertising is as much about supporting a PR strategy as it is about connecting directly with voters. In fact, many of the most famous ads we talk about would have been seen on the street by small numbers of people. Their deployment as part of a PR campaign however, took them to a mass audience and helped their party lead the 6 O’Clock News. The book mentions that some posters (particularly for Labour) were only up as long as it took to hold a press conference to launch them. Proving once and for all that PR is better value than advertising.
  1. Peter Mandleson was a phenomenon. Not a popular view in current Labour circles, I’ll grant you. But read the book on his personal impact on reviving Labour’s fortunes (pre-1997 when he really came to public prominence) and reconsider. His vision for how Labour’s communications operation could compete with the Conservative’s war chest revived the party and helped it start to connect with voters in a way it hadn’t managed for years.

Mad Men and Bad Men is rich in anecdote and insight. Please go read it.

P.S. I’ve previously blogged about what I think is the best political ad of my lifetime, the John Major ‘what does the Conservative party offer a working class kid from Brixton’. It also features a picture of Gerald Ford as the Fonz…