Jeremy Deller Strong and Stable my arse poster

The 2017 UK General Election in Ads, Memes and LOLs

Election day in Britain is here at last. As the country takes to the polls, we take a look how this bumpy and bruising battle has played out in advertising and on social media

The UK general election fight in 2017 began with slogans. Theresa May and the Conservatives, having called the election, were first out of the traps with a number of pithy catchphrases – most prominently ‘Strong and Stable’ – which they proceeded to insert into conversation ad nauseam.

As astute brands will know though, a good slogan only works if it feels authentic, and May’s claims towards strength and stability were quickly turned against her, with the opposition suggesting she was more ‘weak and wobbly’. The phrase provoked one of the most shared anti-Conservative campaigns too, when posters proclaiming ‘Strong and stable my arse’ (see photo top, taken by Julie Howe in Stroud) began appearing across the country. They turned out to be work of artist Jeremy Deller.

Conservative campaign poster

The backlash was enough for the Conservatives to downplay the phrase for a while, but its general ubiquity has probably proved effective within the core Conservative base. On the Labour side, the phrase ‘For the many not the few’ is not as snappy as ‘strong and stable’ though has gained power over the course of the election campaign by chiming well with Labour’s overall manifesto and message. More striking though was Labour’s use of the critical phrase ‘dementia tax’, prompted in response to May’s adult social care plans. While spontaneous, it is this expression that has become part of accepted election vernacular, in the way that ‘Brexit’ was in the EU referendum (and, of course, beyond).

Beyond slogans, and leafleting, traditional advertising approaches seemed to have been all but abandoned in this election. There are no Demon Eyes or Labour Isn’t Working opinion-shifting posters this time round, no memorable party political broadcasts.

Instead, the battle took to social media. There has been particular focus on the use of so-called ‘dark ads’ on Facebook – personalised commercials shown to users based on their age, sex and interests. Local London paper the Ham & High has a good analysis here of their use in one key marginal.

And here, of course, the public and other unofficial channels joined in too. On the Labour side, this led to a fair bit of comedy. After Corbyn’s popularity among Grime stars emerged, we had this from Joe.co.uk:

Twitter delighted in mocking May’s many facial expressions, and as with Ed Miliband in 2015, eating food was briefly her undoing too:

More formal online campaigning for Labour also went for the lols, as can be seen in this Momentum film:

Or in these ‘face-swapping’ images found on Twitter (which may have been influenced by a classic ad from a previous election by Trevor Beattie):

And in the party’s use of paid-for Snapchat filters to suggest historical figures who may have voted Labour had they the chance.

The election was no laughing matter over at Conservative HQ, who, by contrast, went on the offensive, with ads directly attacking Corbyn’s political beliefs, such as this film (which this Guardian analysis shows takes many of Corbyn’s words out of context):

It also used Facebook to spread attack ads such as this one:

Tory Facebook ad

And while a striking nationwide poster campaign may have been absent from the Tories this time round, the party had other media spreading its message across the country:

Covers from The Sun and The Daily Mail on the day before the election

Individuals on the left fought back hard against the right-leaning media on social channels, including this work by illustrator Stewart Bremner, which appeared among many other anti-Tory illustrations on his Twitter feed:

Stewart Bremner

And despite humour being largely absent from ads for the parties on the right, there were moments of unintentional levity, such as in this leaflet for UKIP’s Robert Hall-Palmer, who is standing in Nottingham East, which was widely mocked on social media:

Robert Hall-Palmer flyer

The campaigning shown here is just the tip of the iceberg of an election that has seen fierce discussion, and the furious creation of memes, across social media. This is now clearly seen as the core battleground for political parties, with attack ads targeted forensically at ‘floating voters’, while larger campaign messages are spread hourly to supporters.

Has anything been lost by the seeming absence of the professional ad creatives? In part, the creative industry, particularly those on the left, has attempted to do the job for them, by creating innumerable posters and illustrations supporting their teams (illustration by Rebecca Strickson shown below, with works by more designers and artists over on our previous article on political design here).

Rebecca Strickson

Yet, beauty aside, there has been little to match the savage wit of the classic political ads of the past in these works, and some of the films created would definitely have benefited from some professional polish. In the cut-and-thrust world of modern politics though, perhaps this matters less than having a clear stance, and in this election, the difference of ‘brand’ between the two major parties is more stark than it’s been for decades. Whether it will all prove to be enough to dismiss voter apathy this time round will be revealed later today.

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