In the summer of 1978 phone calls went out to members of Hendon Young Conservatives, asking them to turn up with their parents at a council car park for a secret project. Partly due to the short notice, less than a fifth of the hoped-for 100 volunteers turned up, nearly causing the plans to be cancelled. Instead, some clever trick photography – melding together repeated images of those who did turn up standing in different locations – enabled the creation of the classic political poster: “Labour isn’t working”:Tim Bell, then Managing Director of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and head of the advertising team advising the Conservatives, later recounted (in Political Communications: The General Election Campaign of 1979) that:
I had the most awful battle getting the party’s approval for this poster. The objection was that since few people would actually read the copy beneath the title, the effect of including the name of the Labour Party in the title would be counter-productive.
Despite those concerns, the advert’s impact was dramatic, both for the power of the message and for the novelty. Such political billboard adverts were still new to British politics in the late 1970s. Its impact was helped along by the Labour Chancellor, Denis Healey, denouncing it in Parliament.
As so often with political adverts, a little bit of controversy made the message go a long way.
You can see all the posts in this series on my Political Ads page – including the amazingly bizarre Luis Fishman classic. The stretch from 7 seconds in until 22 seconds in is fairly normal. But as for the rest…