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Outdoor goes missing in UK election

News, 01 May 2015

LONDON: Traditionally a beneficiary of a general election campaign, the UK's outdoor advertising industry appears to have lost out to online as the country's main political parties turn to paid-for advertising on Facebook and YouTube.

In part that is a simply a reflection of how the times have changed since 1979 and Saatchi's famous dole queue poster, 'Labour Isn't Working', for the Conservative Party. And in part it is a consequence of both main parties hiring people who had previously worked as digital advisors to Barack Obama's election campaigns in the US.

And while UK parties are rather less advanced in technology matters they have increasingly focused their attention on how they can use the internet to gain an advantage, harvesting data and using this to target voters more effectively.

The Financial Times, citing information from people within the campaigns, reported there has been "a clear shift towards digital" and that spending on traditional media has fallen from the levels of the 2010 election when the Conservative Party spent almost £7m on posters.

Earlier this year the BBC revealed that the Conservatives were spending more than £100,000 each month on Facebook, a sum that will only have increased as the election neared.

Both the Conservative and Labour parties have utilised online video to sidestep the ban on paid-for political advertising on television, but with less money to spend, Labour has tended to focus more on generating a buzz on social media.

The parties have still unveiled election posters, if not as frequently as in the past, but, The Drum observed, these are now simply "PR stunts orchestrated to tick the boxes of press coverage and social sharing" rather than part of any large-scale outdoor campaign.

"If you live in a key marginal, you're seeing all sorts of communications," noted Johnny Hornby, founder of The&Partnership and who worked on Tony Blair's 1997 election campaign.

"If you don't, the only bits you see are on Sky News or when you pick up a copy of the Times or the Mail and see Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg standing next to an ad van in a miserable car park."

All of which rather dashes the hopes the outdoor industry had held out for the new opportunities offered by digital outdoor.

"The next phase of electioneering will be about programmatic, big data, and one-to-one at scale," said Hornby. "I don't think either of the major parties have got there on that yet," he added.

Data sourced from Financial Times, The Drum, BBC; additional content by Warc staff