Party political broadcasts: it’s time to move on from willy waving
As the political parties put out their broadcasts for the local elections, Madwomen’s Creative Director, Gail Parminter, explains how she has tried to mix things up for one of them and cut out the customary willy waving.
My view is that the way the main parties portray themselves in their broadcasts, and their advertising, is essentially politics through a male lens; patriarchal and masculine. This tends to be a style that can put women off and is also irritating for many men who are fed up with being talked down to by the elite blokes at the ‘top’.
So, let’s take a look at the party political broadcasts in turn, which have all already been aired and are available on BBC iPlayer:
Open on David Cameron in a smart suit boasting about his achievements, followed by vox pops of “real people” being surprised at how great the coalition is. That’s really and truly just about it.
We see Nick Clegg talking about promises they’ve kept – but I can’t get the ‘I’m sorry’ viral out of my head as I watch. Cut between Nick trying to look casual with no tie and people holding up cards asking, “What would you do with an extra £600?” and hearing how they would spend it. I’m left cold.
“Real People” are always a bit of a cliché in advertising – it’s difficult to make them seem sincere and authentic and the Labour broadcast struggles. The actors are good, but it’s very obvious that they’re actors. The Labour messages spill seamlessly from their lips, such as: “We are the ones that can turn things around,” and “We are the forgotten wealth creators of Britain.” Really? Actors. Blimey. We then cut to Ed Miliband saying ‘We can turn things around’ as if he really is the same as them – but then maybe he is the best actor of all. Did he do drama at Oxford?
Open on lighthouse (phallic symbol?), cut to blokes with beards talking about industry, sexy farmer-ette on a tractor. Then more stereotypes of middle England, along with thrusting masculine imagery of crashing waves. End on Nigel Farrage in a pub, alone with his pint. Says it all really.
Well, as my agency, Madwomen is responsible for this one, I can be nothing if not biased. But let me explain why I think what we’ve done is different and will appeal to women as well as men who are fed up with macho politics. The Greens approached us for our expertise in advertising aimed at women. And as the female vote is crucially important to all parties, they were interested to see how we could help them attract female voters without alienating men.
But, I already hear you ask, what’s particularly female about our film? And that’s the point. It isn’t pink, or fluffy. It’s not the Shelia’s Wheels of election broadcasts. But it doesn’t worry about the size of its c***k either.
For a start we chose to use Caroline Lucas as our presenter. She isn’t the party’s leader, but we felt she would come across well to all voters and especially women. At one point we were asked if we could use Will Duckworth, the deputy leader, but for us, it had to be Caroline. The other parties didn’t have to use their leaders – they made a conscious decision to do so.
And, in the current climate where the ‘posh boys’ are being criticised, one wonders why. It may seem a small point – but it’s not. You need to ask why the other parties use their male leaders – what message does this convey? The Tories could have used Home Secretary Theresa May for instance.
For me, and I suspect many female voters, it simply shows us who’s in charge. Men.
So what else makes our broadcast more appealing to women? Well, it helps that we don’t portray Lucas as a macho saviour walking among the masses a la Miliband. Or as promise-making and breaking patriarchs looking down on The Ordinary People. And the broadcast does not resort to showing stereotypes that are split into those who have serious opinions – men – and those who support and care for them and their families – women.
Green Party’s political broadcast
We’ve tried to make the Green Party’s broadcast as honest and open as possible. Lucas starts by talking about what it’s really like in politics – uncaring – and speaks of what the Green Party can actually do to help create stronger communities. And that’s what matters to women, and men too.
The visual link with the living graffiti adds something that makes the film watchable – whilst also showing how the Green Party’s values can help to change our decaying old patriarchal-style politics into something fresher, more honest and more caring. And let’s be frank, more female. Nature and the environment are traditionally associated with femininity, so the green art taps into this.
Symbols often work better when appealing to women because, as we see in the other broadcasts, it can be irritating when advertisers try to show images that represent ‘real people’ because they end up using stereotypes that don’t resonate.
The Tories’ ‘Evil Blair’ election poster
So no, the Green Party broadcast is not politics ‘lite’ especially for the ‘ladies’ in a pink bottle. It’s a serious political message that doesn’t play the muscle-clenching hero we’re so bored of. If you want to see this taken to the extreme, you only have to think back to the Conservative’s ‘Demon Eyes’ posters of a few years’ back, sending the message that only Tory heroes could save the country from ‘evil Tony Blair’.
Labour’s 2010 election poster mocking Cameron for ‘wearing make-up’
Or the posters intent on feminising Cameron – with a shot of Gordon Brown with the line “Building a Foundation” and a shot of Cameron with the line “Wearing it” – sending out the message that being “feminine” (cue more jokes about wearing make-up) in politics is unacceptable and that those who are deemed as such, are not fit to rule. Really?
Only the other day did BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme dedicate 10 minutes of its show to discussing the Chancellor George Osborne’s tears at Baroness Thatcher’s funeral. Presenter John Humphrys was later duly slammed by hundreds of listeners for mocking Osborne over his weeping. Would a female MP have been mocked in this way for expressing remorse at a funeral? Probably not. Osborne was shredded because he showed a form of perceived ‘weakness’ for male politicians.
Surely traditional ‘feminine’ values which include: caring, sustaining, nurturing and working collaboratively, are better influences to bring to British politics – than those traditional ‘masculine’ traits like aggression, competitiveness and a lack of emotion, that these broadcasts, posters and displays in the Commons actively promote and encourage.