Hello world. First things first: I believe apologies are in order. If you’ve been working with any Brits, you may have noticed a certain distracted air about us of late. Between the Bank Holiday on Monday and Thursday’s general election, I don’t think this will go down as the most productive week the industry’s ever had. But while the 2015 UK election has had a particularly British flavour to it (dominated as it has been by back biting, tabloid partisanship and inept bacon sandwich eating) there’s a lot for the rest of the world to learn too.
Oh there’s no emotional ‘movement’ à la Obama 08. Instead of inspiring Shepard Fairey artwork we’ve got really juvenile memes and cack-handed Photoshop. In fact, at this point it doesn’t even look like there will be any outright winner come Friday morning. Instead, there’s been a huge focus on the possibility of a hung parliament or potential coalitions. A recent Question Time Leaders special saw an audience grill the party leaders on dodgy deals in darkened rooms.
Add to that the growing prominence of minority parties – one televised debate had SEVEN party leaders on stage – and the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Scotland. British politics has become a whole lot more complicated than the Red vs. Blue contests of yesteryear. All very Game of Thrones, albeit it substantially less gory, sexy or exciting (insert obligatory pun about the only tits on show being the politicians themselves). It’s so confusing that even The Sun can’t decide who it supports – in England and Wales readers are treated to a true blue cheerleading for the Conservatives while in Scotland they’re backing David Cameron’s arch rival Nicola Sturgeon. Put it this way: south of the border she’s Miley Cyrus, North of the border she’s Princess Leia. Go figure.
The crowded UK election is just one manifestation of the complexity of modern life – the proliferation of media channels, choices, different opinions and voices. In place of cohesiveness and unifying narratives, there is fracture. The problems we all face are complicated and there are no easy answers – and that’s as true of advertising and marketing as it is for politics.
If the lack of any straightforward narrative means that no leader or party has been able to galvanise an overriding ‘movement’, the complexity of the election has given us a lot to talk, bitch, and tweet about. While voter apathy is high, particularly among the young, when the public have been allowed near the leaders they’ve been armed with tough questions. That sophistication means that the public is also more alert to jarring marketing and PR tricks, idiotic sloganeering and media manipulation. Just look at the savaging Labour leader Ed ‘Happy Warrior’ Miliband received when he uttered the distinctly un-British phrase ‘hell yes’ during an interview (David Axelrod, what were you thinking?). Or indeed the fact that one 17-year-old was spurred on to start a ‘Milifandom’ to counter what she saw as a ‘distorted’ media portrayal of Miliband. I think it’s a lesson as pertinent to brands and advertisers as it is to politicians: just because we might not be buying your shit, doesn’t mean we don’t smell it.
While voters might be unwilling to get behind any party with much passion, the election has been an enjoyable spectator sport. There’s no foregone conclusion and the surprises keep coming. One day the Prime Minister can’t remember what football team he supports, the next Russell Brand makes an appearance! Ed Miliband finds his head photoshopped onto the shirtless body of actor Aiden Turner (a.k.a fictional hunk of the moment, Poldark)! Nigel Farage slags off the whole studio audience at the leadership debate! Someone decides that a giant carved tombstone is a good idea! OK, so the election race hasn’t been tightly-plotted, but it’s been uncertain and surprising enough to keep us hooked. And it’s had to be – our attention spans may be shrinking but political campaigns are increasingly drawn out affairs.
If the US has the West Wing to aspire to (or perhaps the darker, slicker political machinations of House of Cards’ Francis Underwood) and the Danes have the seriously smart Borgen… the UK election resembles homegrown cringe-farce The Thick of It. (But I think… I think we might be cool with that. We’ve found our level.) If the landscape has been muddy and the potential outcome muddier still, the general ineptness of the political class is something that has brought together voters of all allegiances and none. A shared eye-roll. A conspiratorial ‘what are they like?’ The UK’s economic recovery is on a knife edge and issues like the future of the National Health Service and growing inequality mean that the results on Friday morning will have very serious implications. But shared humour and a sense of bemusement has brought the electorate together. (Just today, the Twitterati started sharing photos of themselves eating awkwardly, under the hashtag #jesuised, in solidarity with Miliband and his aforementioned inept bacon sandwich skills).
So it might not be the most inspiring election ever but I do think, with its fragmented landscape and media-savvy voters, the 2015 poll has a lot to say, wherever you are in the world. What’s more, any Australians or Los Angelinos looking to catch up with their limey collaborators might find their requests for an after-hours Skype catch up on Thursday accepted with unusual eagerness. It’s the closest run British elections since… well… the last one. With no clear winner in sight there are bound to be lots of adlanders staying up well past their bedtime.