8 key lessons from the 2017 snap election

Who are the real winners from last week’s shock hung parliament, and what did the 2017 General Election teach us about political advertising?

The IPA’s 44 Club brought together industry experts Benedict Pringle (politicaladvertising.co.uk), Tori Fannon (Creature of London), Steve Parker (M&C Saatchi) and Matt Watts (Krow Communications) to dissect the big stories from this year’s snap election.

Here, the IPA’s Charlie Young sums up their 8 key lessons from the 2017 snap election:

  1. Successful campaigns are run by tight teams who can act nimbly – Elections are living, breathing entities affected by thousands and thousands of brains and thoughts, all running in different directions. To be able to react accordingly and to control the election narrative your campaign team must be able to make quick decisions and react fast. This was Corbyn’s third major campaign in three years (two leadership battles and the election), and that experience showed.


  1. Labour had an army of advocates, the Conservatives had none – Labour were able to paint an optimistic view of the future and bring influencers and groups on board to help them drive their message. Thirty of 54 non-Party campaign groups, such as Unite the Union, were actively anti-Conservative, compared with just one pro-Conservative; the remaining groups were non-party aligned or focused on a single issue. This support enabled Labour to reap the benefits of their work, without having to be accused of a negative campaign. ‘Grime4Corbyn’, a group of musicians that were vocal in their support for Jeremy Corbyn, while only a small factor in the election, demonstrated the appeal of the Labour campaign and helped push their message to young voters.


  1. Paid media has never been more important – In 2015 the Conservatives outspent the Labour Party 7x on social media advertising, and more than 50x the Liberal Democrats. The figures for 2017 haven’t been released yet, but it is likely that the discrepancy in digital media spend will be much smaller this time around. Micro-targeting specific groups or constituencies is a major factor in political advertising, and it is here to stay.


  1. Earned media is still important – Theresa May avoided the public for the most part, putting on carefully staged, carefully managed events and refusing to take part in the TV debates, As a result her earned media share was much lower and more negative than it otherwise could have been. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn was open to the public, putting on rallies that gave a great sense of the scale of his support. The images of the Labour campaign were simply much better, and his media performances made him come across as relevant and affable, causing his leadership approval ratings to increase dramatically.


  1. Narrative needs to speak to a disgruntled country where everyone is fed up – The majority of UK voters are fed up after two elections and two referendums over the last four years and political parties need to pitch accordingly. Both Labour and the Conservatives started their campaigns well, by pitching to the ordinary voter. Jeremy Corbyn positioned himself as always on the side of the marginalised, while Theresa May set out that she would defy the vested interests, standing up for the public against the EU. However, after the Conservative manifesto launch it felt like Theresa May was just another Conservative and her pitch to the public effectively became ‘I’m not Jeremy Corbyn’ and therefore lost the narrative she had built.


  1. The Conservatives lifted their strategy from 2015 but didn’t take into account how the fundamentals had changed – The Conservative stance was very similar to their 2015 campaign, but hadn’t adapted for the specifics of this election. Emphasis on strong leadership worked under David Cameron, as he had been Conservative leader for 10 years and Prime Minister for five. That argument wasn’t as convincing when talking about Theresa May. The Conservative Party had no new ideas to sell to the electorate and weren’t able to produce a positive story on the economy – a traditional Conservative strength. This combined with failing to understand the battleground seats, and treating their support base as a whole rather than understanding individual concerns led to a poor showing at the polls.


  1. Parties need to create a cultural campaign rather than just an ad campaign – The 2017 election saw an accelerated shift away from traditional ads and ad agencies towards content and culture. Therefore creating a cultural campaign in collaboration with the Party is crucial. People react to things that they find interesting and are passionate about so it is important to resonate beyond the Newsnight audience and find authentic voices to help drive your campaign forward.


  1. The Conservatives would not be able to pull off a decentralised campaign in the same way Labour have done – The Conservative Party are not necessarily set up to engage with culture in the same way Labour are. There just aren’t the same number of influencers and cultural contributors wanting to publically endorse the Conservatives. The character of the leader is key, if you don’t have a leader that transcends in the way that Jeremy Corbyn has done then a decentralised, cultural campaign doesn’t feel credible – perhaps the only potential Conservative leader this style of campaign might work for is Boris Johnson.


To watch the IPA’s 44 Club: Election Fever, visit the IPA YouTube Channel here

Last updated 21 January 2022