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'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Thursday, 8 September 2011

You've put a TEA PARTY AD and a commercial for A TRADE UNION on your blog? ARE YOU MAD???

Goodness, you’re thinking, he’s gone barmy. He’s put a Tea Party commercial up on his blog. What CAN he be thinking…

Well, lets first up make clear that I don’t agree with the message of this ad. But I think it leads to some interesting observations. So take a gander and then I’ll explain…

Now, first off, this is fairly typical Tea Party fare.

It puts tax firmly at the root of all evil, ignoring any other factors such as (I’m plucking something from the air here…) 8 years of financial mismanagement under the Bush administration. So none of us are likely to fall over ourselves nodding along to the message of this ad. It also doesn’t need that stultifyingly awful last close up of the child.

So why is it here? Three reasons

1. While I don’t like the message itself, as I work in communications, what I can appreciate is the construct of this ad (that last shot excepted).

It clearly understands the difference between what we would call a Party Political Broadcast and what they would call a TV commercial. PBB’s tend to make a whole series of messages about principals and policies, trying to paint a picture of a broad programme of government should the sponsoring party be picked. They are watched once in general by a viewer (that’s if they haven’t turned off as soon as the introductory frame appears…) and in that single viewing a whole host of messaging needs to be absorbed.

A TV Commercial – if it’s any good - says one thing and one thing only. But it is designed to be short, and to be seen over and over again.

Here is a UK political TV commercial. Yes, I know they are banned. This one skirted round the regulations by claiming it was a recruitment ad, not a piece of political messaging. But it makes one point, clearly and succinctly. It is very good.

Why does this matter to us?

There are moves afoot to change things. Labour activists have been lobbying for years to loosen up the rules and allow paid for political messaging to appear on the TV. Now the right are also taking up the message. If things do change, we need to be ready. What plans as a party are we putting into place to prepare for this sort of messaging and programme?

2. ‘Been talked about for years. Won’t happen’ is a common refrain at this point.

Except it already has happened.

The Tea Party commercial above hasn’t run on mainstream TV (to my knowledge – if it has, it will be as a result of editorial, not paid for space I’ll wager). It was made and designed to run on a Tea Party website, and then You Tube – where it got half a million viewers. That’s half a million people who have chosen to go and find it, not sat through a broadcast because they can’t be bothered to get up and switch the kettle on. Viewers who choose to watch things like that are rather more committed than the normal viewer, and more likely to take the message in.

Making commercials like these available on (or even specifically for) the web is the norm now in the US – most of the films I put up from Republican Presidential candidates on a previous blog post (it's becoming a bad habit, checking out what republicans are up to...) were lifted from their campaign sites and most made it very easy to embed or distribute those films via social media..

We got rather good at this sort of campaign from a web perspective at the last election – but making TV commercials that people want to actively distribute on our behalf is a different ball game. We need to be thinking about the practicalities of how we will go about this now.

3. A political party didn’t make the doorbell ad.

Neither, interestingly, did the Tea Party (which of course, doesn’t really exist in an organizational sense).

No, it was made by a volunteer as part of a competition. And despite it being unofficial it is generally regarded as one of the most effective illustrations of Tea Party thinking anyone has made.

This says two things.

It’s not about money – it’s about skill, endeavour and dedication.

And we wont be able to control all of the messaging that goes out in our name. Because other people will be doing it off their own bat. and many people will struggle to see what is 'official' and what is not.

So let me leave you with three thoughts.

1. Messaging on short 30 and 60 second films needs to be single minded, pithy, and attractive enough that people seek it out and send it to others. What as a party are we doing to deliver that?
2. We’ll need to have all those skill sets from right now– not when legislation changes anything.
3. Our most popular messaging and most effective campaign films will most likely be made by someone else, without the parties help, control or influence.

What fun.

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