Super Thursday looms. But how super are the ads?

Although London’s forthcoming Mayoral election is no doubt a pushover for Ken Livingstone in political terms, the competition’s a little more intense when it comes to presentation. I recently received a booklet from the Greater London Returning Officer containing the manifestos of all the ten competing candidates. What’s interesting about the format is that it effectively gives each contender an advertising space to use as they please. And how they’ve chosen to fill it is extremely revealing.

By far the most stylish effort comes from the Tory candidate, Steve Norris. Whilst others try to use every inch of the A4 landscape page, he reserves the left-hand half of the space simply for a headline and his picture. “If New York’s Mayor can cut crime, why can’t London’s?” he thunders, demonstrating a confidence that is sadly lacking amongst his competitors. He also manages a tagline – the ‘slogan’ much beloved of advertising copywriters that sums up a product or campaign. “It can be done” is actually quite clever, as it can apply to his policy initiatives, but also address the belief (reinforced at the start of this article) that Livingstone cannot be beaten.

Ken4London is the ever-so-slightly self-conscious brand identity for Livingstone’s own re-election campaign. The use of the number 4 is a nod towards the text and email language beloved of the capital’s youth and the newt-loving maverick no doubt reckons himself to be in touch with first-time voters. The design values are certainly a bit cooler than New Labour’s generally, which is interesting, as Livingstone is now, of course, the official Labour candidate. The only inkling of his connection with Tony Blair comes from a tiny party logo and some legalese at the bottom of the right-hand page. The use of Ken’s signature – familiar to all of us who followed his self-promotional antics as Leader of the GLC in the early eighties – is a confident and personal touch. The only other candidates to use the device are Simon Hughes for the Lib Dems and Lindsey German, a stalwart of the Socialist Workers Party and representative of George Galloway’s Respect Party.

German’s decision to run with a first-person quotation is, in principle, a strong idea in an election where personality counts. Many candidates have reached for the quote marks. The trouble in German’s case is that we’re talking first-person plural rather than singular. Good socialist that she is, she defers to the collective by using her space to put forward the views of her party and there’s not much sense of individuality at all. The testimonial endorsement by Galloway (described as a “Respect Member of Parliament”, even though he was never elected as such) will play well with those who are already convinced. But is there any point in preaching to the choir?

Boxing promoter, Frank Maloney, is the Mayoral Candidate for the UK Independence Party. London isn’t going to be their strongest constituency, but I think Frank will do better than most people expect. I’m not sure, however, that his electoral showing will have much to do with his two-page ad. The purple and red colour scheme looks word-processed rather than professionally typeset and makes you feel as if you’ve gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson. And someone should tell the UKIP that if you box off and underline everything that you want to stand out, you end up with nothing standing out.

One final word on the Lib Dems. The Simon Hughes ad looks as if it’s a local leaflet. It is incredibly busy and you don’t know what to read first. It also enters the record books for the largest number of candidate pictures in an A5 space. There are four mugshots of Simon on the left-hand side of the booklet alone. And another one on the right for luck.

© Phil Woodford, 2004. All rights reserved.

Phil Woodford is an advertising creative director and lecturer.