The power of persuasion

We speak to the creatives behind successful political campaigns for the UK’s Conservative party and US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about the role of design and creativity in the battle for voters

In 1978, the Conservative party sent shockwaves through the heart of the UK’s political landscape with nothing but a poster. Released ahead of the 1979 general election, the poster depicted a dole queue snaking out from an employment office and disappearing into the distance, accompanied by the tagline, ‘Labour isn’t working’, and underneath, in ­smaller type, ‘Britain’s better off with the Conservatives’. The simplicity of the message was so effective that it helped change the course of politics in the UK, ending the career of Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan and ushering in the Thatcher era and 18 years of Tory rule.

The stunt also made a household name out of the young agency behind the design, headed up by two Iraqi-born brothers, Charles and Maurice Saatchi, who went on to create a spate of much-lauded creative work for the Conservatives in subsequent years.

Prior to the 1979 election, political ads in the UK were generally designed by enthusiastic supporters for free, but the success of Saatchi & Saatchi’s collaboration with the Tories ushered in a new era of political parties hiring advertising agencies to run their ­election campaigns.

Today, image is everything in politics. The way a political campaign looks and sounds has never been more important in determining how we choose to vote – be it Barack Obama’s hope-themed US presidential bid in 2008, or the ‘Take Back Control’ messaging used by the Vote Leave side that came to define the Brexit debate in the UK.

Top: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and some of her supporters during the 2018 campaign for New York’s 14th Congressional District © Corey Torpie; Above: Boris Johnson in a Love Actually spoof political broadcast during the 2019 UK general election