TV work fails to push right buttons

Election broadcasts have served up some of the most dreary, tawdry TV for a long time, says Mark Wnek. Mark Wnek is executive creative director at EURO RSCG Wnek Gosper.

Eighteen months ago there was a big kerfuffle over suggestions that the three main parties were working on proposals to make party political broadcasts shorter and more frequent. More like ads in fact.

If only they had. We would have been spared some of the most dismal, dreary and tawdry televisual offerings since the BBC pulled the plug on Eldorado.

In the US it was realised long ago that a party or a point of view was exactly like a brand. You had to have some sort of unique selling point, you had to have a tightly focused message and you had to deliver it in an engaging way.

But, for the most part, the political broadcasts in this election have ruthlessly and systematically ignored every tenet of good advertising.

They have been confused, rambling pieces, trying to say everything and ending up saying nothing. They have tried to address everybody and ended up speaking to nobody.

Worst of all they have tried to avoid looking too slick and, as a result, have looked like extended eulogies to the cult of the amateur. John Major’s extemporised plea on Europe was a prime culprit. OK, it was supposed to look real, it was impassioned, but what were those 15-second fades all about?

You can deconstruct the hidden message that lies behind a quarter minute of blank screen any way you like. All I know is that I made a cup of tea, burnt the toast, fed the dog and still made it back in time for the next scene.

The lack of substance and verve in Labour’s oeuvre could at least be justified by the strategic need to say nothing that would offend anybody. In fairness the single outstanding piece of propaganda of the campaign was probably last Thursday’s film of Tony Blair by Molly Dineen. It was compelling, absorbing and credible.

Why? Because the director valued her independence and stood up to the heavy hand of party intervention. There is a clear lesson here for Lord Saatchi and the prospective Baron Powell of Paddington: politicians, like the worst clients, want everything crammed in and want to cover every angle.

This has also been apparent in the feeble strategic wobblings of the poster campaign, as well as their broadcasts.

The single most important service their agencies could do for them is just say “no”. I have been a life-long Labour voter. Last time I lapsed and voted Tory, but now I am returning to the fold for a socialist millennium. One thing’s for sure though: it wasn’t the propaganda of either side that changed my mind.


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