Why creatives should take the election advantage

As we reach the day of our third general election in five years, Creative Brief's Izzy Ashton looks at why creativity could do with getting a little political.

12 December 2019
Reading Time
4 minute read


It was a big red bus that did it; a big red bus with a mythical statistic on the side; the £350 million figure that etched itself into the minds of UK voters across the country. Vote Leave’s Brexit bus travelled the length and breadth of the country during the 2016 EU referendum and arguably did more damage to advertising’s reputation than any marketing campaign before or since.

Last December, public favourability towards advertising was just 25%. In 1992, it was 48%. This is according to research conducted by the Trust Working Group, a collaboration between the Advertising Association, ISBA and Credos. The UK’s political organisations and their flagrantly misleading use of marketing channels have done nothing to help, with the “Brexit Bus” becoming shorthand for the lack of regulation around political advertising and declining consumer trust.

Maybe because of this, some brands have had a hard time committing to politics. Think HSBC and its “We Are Not an Island” campaign. Or as its strict denials would have it, its “This is not about Brexit campaign.” But some brands are seeing the creative opportunity. BBH London’s “Whopper” spot for Burger King hit the perfect tone and underlines the fact that an election can be an opportunity for brands to connect with consumers and become part of the conversation. All it takes is for them to retain authenticity by sticking to both their values and tone of voice.

The key creative focus around this year’s election, however, has been around encouraging people, especially the younger generations, to register to vote and to make their voices heard. It’s been less about taking sides and more about seeing a democratic process that represents the country as a whole. An increasingly important message as the Electoral Commission estimates that some 9.4 million people eligible to vote are not currently on the register. Whilst a paltry 46% of women aged 18-30 say they will definitely vote in this election according to the politically neutral online community #SHEvotes.

Operation Black Vote is one such nonpartisan organisation, originally set up in 1996, to “tackle the Black democratic deficit in the UK”. In its latest campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi London, actors deliver shockingly insensitive sound bites to their friends and colleagues; before they’re revealed to be actual quotes from UK politicians. This bold move is intended to galvanise young voters to register to vote, particularly BAME individuals who may feel the sharp end of under-representation and prejudice. The message is clear: if you don’t speak up, someone else, someone who perhaps doesn’t have your back or even your interests at heart, will do.

The nonpartisan campaigning organisation Rize Up offered a similar message to encourage peer-to-peer conversations around the importance of registering to vote. It appealed to the 22 million people, many of whom are under the age of 25, who didn’t vote in the 2017 general election. Rize Up has received funding from 38 Degree, a not-for-profit political activism organisation and the cosmetics store Lush. Long known for its activist stance, the cosmetics retailer has gone one step further and offered up every store to become an ad hoc advice centre and registration address for homeless people seeking to sign up to the electoral roll.

The focus on the younger generation comes from the assumption that they are the ones who will be able to reposition the political focus. The Electoral Commission believes that some 29% of the people aged 18-34 are not correctly registered to vote; this is compared to just 6% of those aged over 65. This is why repeatedly reminding people of the importance of registering and voting is so vital; different generations prioritise different agendas. Each needs to be represented at the polls and Spotify recognises this. Alongside Digitas UK, it released It’s Our Time, a 30-second ad that interrupts your playlist to remind you to register to vote. Whilst Brewdog parked its own bus, yes, another one, outside the Houses of Parliament offering a free pint to anyone who votes. As Brewdog’s co-founder James Watt says: “Whatever your views, whatever your status, every vote was created equal.”

Elections are now simply a part of the ecosystem we operate in. To ignore the election is to ignore the reality of UK consumers’ life – and brands realise this. Their willingness to engage politically is opening up the creative agenda for agencies and individuals alike. It’s a new horizon where opinion meets legitimacy and perhaps most crucially for our political future, offers it a platform as large and resonant as advertising is capable of. As KFC’s swift and firm response to the Conservative Party tweeting an image of Jeremy Corbyn dressed as a chicken shows; when a brand is confident in its tone of voice and values it can play a legitimate role in political discourse and cut the bullshit you’ll find on a bus.

Share Article

About the Author

Izzy Ashton

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.