Shock General Election result shows the importance of authenticity and youth targeting

A surge in young people voting boosted Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party as Theresa May’s General Election gamble backfired.

Rewind back to April and experts were lining up to dismiss anything other than a large Conservative majority. Yet as the results trickled in this morning, the exit polls, which predicted a surprise hung parliament, were validated, with Labour gaining 31 seats for a total of 261, and the Conservatives losing 12, putting their total at 318.

The Conservatives are planning to cobble together a government through a partnership with Northern Ireland’s the Democrat Unionist Party that would push them over the 326-seat line. But the General Election 2017 result has given the left a much-needed boost as well as destroying May’s hopes of “crushing the saboteurs” as one national newspaper infamously put it.

Targeting young voters

It has also added authenticity to Labour’s decision to focus on the younger generation through platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. According to initial reports, Britain’s youth turned out in record numbers, with up to 75% of 18-to-24 year-olds voting; a whopping 66% of this group is thought to have voted Labour, according to the National Union of Students.

“This election highlights more than ever the generational gap between the young, who tend to vote Labour, and the old who continue to vote Conservative,” says Cranfield University’s political marketing professor Paul Baines.

Andre van Loon, research and insight director at We Are Social, says Labour’s “successful” campaign did so well with young voters as it prioritised brand advocacy and authenticity.

He adds: “By making Corbyn so prominent on social media, it created brand advocates from Grime stars to young people. Looking through earned conversations, there are generally a lot more younger people sharing pictures of Jeremy Corbyn on Instagram.

“If you look at his Instagram profile, there’s a few quirky posts, someone knitted a doll of him that he then holds up next to his face. He’s not afraid to poke fun at himself and that made Theresa May look robotic and like she didn’t have a sense of humour in comparison.”

Where the Conservatives went wrong

Ian Twinn, the London chairman of the Conservative Party, admits his party’s campaign “failed” because Theresa May tried to force her authority on the British public.

“I am old enough to remember Edward Heath, the Conservative prime minister who called a General Election in 1974 to obtain a mandate to face down the miners’ wage demands. Labour won back then and they’ve shocked us again 43 years later. Is it a good idea to force the public to reinforce your own views? Probably not.”

By making Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable leadership’ the centerpiece of the campaign, the Conservatives had a message that did not work at a local level either. “It was all about her so if people decided they didn’t like her on the doorsteps, a lot of the campaigners did not have an alternative message,” adds Twinn.

He’s known Corbyn since 1983, when they were both first elected as MPs together, and concedes: “His policies and sense of authenticity came across more clearly.”

Corbyn utilised grime stars such as JME to build a strong following among younger voters

According to Baines, the Conservatives lost sight of one of their core brand strengths; appealing to older voters.

“The result is a vilification of the Conservative’s very weak campaign. This was a campaign aimed at positioning Theresa May as a strong and stable leader but one in which she was largely absent from the media, compounded by the fact that she failed to turn up to debate Jeremy Corbyn,” he explains.

“The social care policy u-turn, on how much people should pay towards their social care costs, was particularly damaging not just because it showed her to be weak but also because it was aimed at the very people the Conservatives need to win an election – older voters, who are around twice as numerous as younger voters and twice as likely to vote.”

So… what comes next?

May called a General Election as she was confident she could create a Conservative majority and strengthen her hand in hard Brexit negotiations with the European Union. However, the result will only raise questions as to whether the country wants a hard Brexit after all and if anything weaken her hand in negotiations.

Subsequently, businesses will be feeling very worried, according to Paul Bainsfair, director general of the IPA. He explains: “A clear win in this snap election would have provided some much-needed stability, vital to businesses and the economy. The business community and uncertainty are unhappy bedfellows – so it’s hard to see last night’s results in a positive way.”

The Advertising Association’s CEO Stephen Woodford says marketers still feel uneasy about May as Prime Minister, with key pledges on issues such as immigration remaining unclear. “UK advertising can play its part in a successful Brexit – but only with the right support,” he adds. “Theresa May’s commitment to reducing immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ risks damaging our ability to attract the best of global talent and investment.”

Marketers at consumer brands should also brace themselves for a dip in consumer spending, with a lack of a majority creating even more economic uncertainty.

Our party will suffer in the long term if it doesn’t show authenticity to young people

Ian Twinn, the London Conservative Party

“Although voters reported that having enough money to live right and pay the bills was as important a concern as the future of the NHS and terrorist threat, and that Immigration and Brexit were not voter priorities, May did not properly address this issue,” says Joe Station, head of market dynamics at GfK.

“In an economy where decelerating wage growth coincides with an acceleration in inflation, where higher prices will squeeze consumer spending power this year and next, and where more people are turning to credit for day-to-day expenses, this is an issue that needs to be addressed as it will dampen confidence going forward. Consumers and the country alike need ‘strong and stable’ reassurance about the issues that matter to them most.”

While the Labour surge was a surprise and May’s attempt to get a stronger majority might have backfired, the General Election has still resulted in a Conservative government, albeit one with less of a mandate than it originally wanted. But, Twinn, a lifelong Conservative, doesn’t sound like a victor, and says there are clear lessons to be learned.

“Young people believe in justice and fairness, so the Conservatives need to spell out what it is we do to promote these values a lot more clearly in the future. My son does not see politics like my generation does, they want to see something that’s more personal. Our party will suffer in the long term if it doesn’t show authenticity to young people,” he suggests.

Additional reporting by Leonie Roderick. 

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