Photo from a set by Tom Gildon.
Writing about advertising, as you might guess is somewhat different from actually creating advertising. In the same way I found recently that creating advertising for a political party is of a different order from actually conducting a political campaign.
It’s a cliché that all politics is local and that political campaigns are won ‘on the ground’, however this point was driven home to me personally when I took some time off to volunteer for the Green Party’s campaign in Brighton.
The first thing that stood out was the length of time and amount of sustained effort that goes into the preparation and build up. Each individual Election campaign is part of a continuous process where data is gathered, local knowledge is built up, which is then used to improve the future targeting of limited resources and provide a focus for the efforts of canvassers, door-knockers and leafleters on rainy days and snowy nights.
This continuous process of test and learn is one that you’ll often hear advocated by agencies, but to see it in action over what has clearly been a number of election cycles was impressive.
The second thing that struck me was how each individual part of the process was particularly structured to collect specific information. Each individual scrap of information eeked out over repeated visits. For instance, canvassing over a period of months identified potential voters, on election day these voters where ticked off as each went cast their ballot, or if not they were ‘knocked-up’ on the day to remind them to vote.
The vagaries of the election night counting process also provide a mine of useful information. As ballots are poured out on to the tables for sorting, flocks of samplers from each party would buzz around each table edge keeping track of how many votes are cast for each party. This sample wasn’t about the final amounts, which of course we’d know in a few hours; rather, it was essential information for the next election to aid in the targeting of door knocking in years to come.
One aspect of this for me being a fan of all things digital, was that if we moved to electronic voting all of this essential data drawn from the paper ballots would simply vanish with no way for individual parties to easily gauge support in each ward. A rare example of analogue winning out over digital!
Just as political marketing can shape the outlines of a campaign, leaving space for others to fill in. So to, do the sustained efforts of activists on the ground help identify the demands and requirements for specific political marketing efforts.
A humbling reminder that the ‘ad’ is rarely the be all and end all, and that even though we may harp on about the latest poster, all campaigns are ultimately won on the ground.
(A version of this post appeared in Campaign Magazine.)