The brands ripping up the political playbook

Religion and politics. Not just the two things you don’t talk about at the dinner table, but also two things that most brands have steered clear of in the past. Or, if they did go there, they’d stick to gentle jibes or statements so general they couldn’t offend anyone.

Not at the moment, though. In the run up to today’s UK general election, plenty of brands have run ads that feel close to the bone – and that, in some cases, have got them into a bit of trouble. Maybe it’s the fact that, for the first time in over 90 years, a UK election is clashing with Christmas ad budgets. Maybe it’s that the state of UK politics is so uncertain, it feels like it’s fair game for brands to get involved.

Either way, here are our three favourite politically-inclined campaigns from brands in recent weeks – and what we can learn from them.

Westminster Jungle – The Times

The newspaper transformed Westminster station into a vine-covered jungle for a day. Images of elephants, gorillas, lions and sloths adorned the walls – bickering, prowling, lazing metaphors for parliament.

It’s easy to see why this one works – The Times has earned the right to get political. Throughout its history, the paper has been known for detailed political analysis, and its editors typically have close ties to No. 10.

And because their Tube takeover is a general comment on the state of parliament, rather than one aimed at any particular party, it’s hard to disagree with.

Manage anything. Even London - monday.com

Project management software start-up monday.com caused a stir with a series of ads poking fun at the current government – with particular swipes at Brexit negotiations, and Boris Johnson’s failed Garden Bridge.

It’s the specificity of these ads that have made them a hit with London commuters. When it comes to observational comedy, the more specific an observation, the more it rings true – a more general comment like ‘gosh, isn’t the government annoying at times’ would never have got monday.com the traction these ads have.

But it’s a double-edged sword: that same specificity has also got TfL referred to the advertising watchdog for being partisan.

A tech start-up like monday.com doesn’t have to play by the same rules as incumbents, though. They get to occupy a maverick role, pushing limits that would be harder for a big financial services company, say, to get away with. Our final ad is an example of a bigger-name brand playing it safer – but still getting a laugh.

Time for a cabinet reshuffle - Tesco

You can always rely on Tesco for a top-shelf pun.

In this ad, the supermarket subverts the usual meaning of a phrase that was on everyone’s lips in the early days of Johnson’s premiership.

There isn’t much to get away with here. It’s fun wordplay, rather than serious satire, and that’s exactly right for Tesco’s inclusive brand. It feels sufficiently cheeky and punchy, even though there’s no real risk involved in what they’re saying.

So, what can brands learn from these examples?

  1. Point of view and tone of voice go hand-in-hand. Brands can’t really get away with turning a blind eye to the big issues of the day anymore – we expect more. But what you say and how you say it have to chime with each other – or your message could fall flat.
  2. You still need to make a point about your offering. These three ads work because they’re not just making political jokes for the sake of it – they’re all firmly tied to what these businesses actually do.
  3. Make sure your stance suits your positioning as a brand. It’s hard to believe in a big financial services brand playing the rabble-rousing start-up. Know the role your customers expect you to play – and if you do get political, make sure it matches up.
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