So – how did that happen? And what can the marketing and advertising worlds learn about effective communication from the Tories’ overwhelming victory last Thursday?
Well – a lot. But I’d suggest there are three key lessons for our industry in Boris’ remarkable triumph.
1. Lesson 1: (relevant) emotional engagement is everything.
While both main party leaders polarized, Boris connected emotionally much more strongly and much more positively than Jeremy Corbyn. And that matters. Daniel Kahneman taught us nearly 20 years ago that we make decisions subconsciously, driven predominantly by emotional factors – and then we post-rationalise frantically to convince ourselves of just how smart our decision was. We choose the brands we connect with emotionally – its how human beings are wired.
But emotional connection only counts when it’s relevant to a really important consumer need. And where Boris and the Conservative team played a blinder was in connecting positively with the pent-up frustrations of all those who just wanted to…wait for it…’Get Brexit Done’.
Boris didn’t just clown about in an attempt to be ‘lovable’ – he made ‘charming’ Facebook ads and drove JCBs through plastic walls to evoke and connect with the key emotions driving choice in this election – frustration at three and a half years of delay. That was very smart.
2. Lesson 2: don’t obsess about micro-targeted media
The Tories took a brave media call in this election, spending much less than Labour on micro-targeted ads with messages crafted to niche target groups, and much more on a small number of emotionally-engaging ‘filmic’ ads, typically ‘mass’ distributed via Facebook, that were shared, watched and talked about – think ‘Boris makes a Cuppa’ or ‘Love, Actually’.
These longer-format ads spoke to (with apologies to Mr Corbyn) ‘the many, not the few’ and rejected micro-targeted policy detail in favour of mass market ‘infotainment’. They were designed to be entertaining, emotionally engaging and to make one or two very simple campaign points. They were undoubtedly the media successes of Election 2019.
They reflected the human truth that we like messages with broad relevance and appeal – we can share them, talk about them and argue about them in a way that is not possible with micro-targeted ads. Humans are social animals and we respond to stories that engage us in this way. Its why mass market TV ads continue to be so much more memorable than highly-targeted digital campaigns.
The Tories understood this – Labour did not.
3. Stick to the Core Proposition – if it’s the right one, its not boring!
It has now been widely reported that one young Labour staffer mocked the Tories’ press conferences for being “so boring – they always repeat the same stuff ”. He regarded Labour’s ‘a new policy promise every day’ approach as being far more exciting and likely to persuade.
He was stone-cold wrong, of course.
Not only did he make the foolish assumption that the average voter was as engaged with daily election news as he was, he also (perhaps more forgiveably) failed to understand how consistent repetition of a message reinforces the positive emotional connections that it evokes in our subconscious brains. Over time, this makes the emotional resonance of a message like ‘Get Brexit Done’ more, not less powerful.
Many brands similarly become bored with campaign messages long before their consumers do and fail to understand how this undermines emotional connection between them and their consumers.
When you work in the industry it’s an easy mistake to make.
So – some hard lessons for the politicians to learn.
Will we in the marketing and advertising world pause, reflect and ask ourselves whether we are guilty of some of the mistakes that cost Labour dearly last week?