Half of Government advertising budgets are wasted. The Tories claim to know which half.

Marketing is fast becoming an election issue. In the next General Election there is likely to be little policy divergence between the two main parties. But the Tories are eager to turn the size of the Labour Governments advertising budget into an electoral battleground.

Marketing is fast becoming an election issue. In the next General Election there is likely to be little policy divergence between the two main parties. But the Tories are eager to turn the size of the Labour Government¹s advertising budget into an electoral battleground.

Labour believes that State advertising, online marketing, PR and promotions play a large and vital role in changing people’s social behaviour for the better.

The blues disagree. At this week’s Conservative Party conference, shadow Chancellor George Osborne sounded like a marketer¹s bete noir, an uncompromising finance director sceptically striking out extraneous items from a marketing and advertising budget.

In his conference speech, Osborne pledged to slash Government Spending on advertising and promotions and plough the money saved into a freeze on council tax rises. Under the plan, the COI budget would be more than halved from £391m a year to £163m.

This would deal a blow to the marketing services industry, hitting agencies and media owners hard. There would be heavy job losses at the Central Office of Information.

But the real kick in the teeth for marketers lay in the sub-text of Osborne’s speech. He implied that much advertising and marketing is simply a waste of money.

The Tory plan is based on the assumption that over half of the advertising, direct marketing, sponsorship and public relations used by the Labour Government is wasted. The Tories claim they know which half – unlike Lever Brothers founder Lord Leverhulme, who reputedly said: “I know half my advertising budget is wasted. But I am not sure which half.”

The Conservatives insist that key health and safety campaigns would be maintained, but messages promoting Labour policies such as Tax Credits would face the axe.

Boris Johnson’s London mayoralty is a dry run for the Conservative onslaught against ad budgets. His main electoral pledge was cutting back communications spend and diverting the money into more police on the beat. It remains to be seen how effective his strategy will be.

Labour is convinced that advertising can help take-up of new Government benefits and tax credits. The party also believes that lobotomising stark and horrifying images into people’s brains can shock the public into taking care on the roads or avoiding binge drinking.

Road safety is a good example – deaths in UK road accidents are at their lowest since records began in 1928 while the number of cars on the roads is at an all time high.

It is hard to evaluate the role of road safety ad campaigns in reducing accidents. Was it the terrifying ad with the little girl who comes back to life after being knocked down which caused people to drive more carefully – or was it the extension of traffic calming schemes such as road bumps.

As ever, marketers struggle to prove the effectiveness of their campaigns. It is hard to measure changes in attitude and emotion in quantative terms.

In the same way, a new Conservative Government would struggle to disentangle effective ad campaigns – which save money for the state in the long run – from those which are a waste.

But the profoundly worrying facet of all this for marketers is the low public esteem in which their craft is held. Marketing and advertising earn so little respect that promising to cut them is seen as a sure-fire vote winner.

Perhaps this is because Labour has failed to put the case for social marketing. The Government needs to demonstrate the positive effects of advertising campaigns and emphasise how much money – and how many lives – they save in the long run.

These are strange days indeed when marketing effectiveness – so long championed by Marketing Week – becomes a key election issue.

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