What can marketers learn from the General Election?

As Britain prepares to go to the polls, political parties have further embraced digital advertising methods in trying to reach new voters.

In 2015, the Conservatives were famed for their successful targeted Facebook campaign. Whilst they ploughed £1.3m into the site in the 12 months leading up to the election, Labour spent a mere £16,000. Whilst Labour focused on reach and impressions with catch-all messaging, the Tories were creating bespoke content tailored to different voters and different regions. This personalisation of messaging was a key part of proving pollsters wrong and securing a parliamentary majority.

All parties seem to have learnt that lesson this time around. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has long been progressive in pioneering unconventional political channels; in his 2015 leadership campaign he took a leaf out of Bernie Sanders’ playbook to capture his rallies and speeches in livestreams across his social channels. This has since caught on as a key way to demonstrate a candidates activity on both sides of the pond (see our blog from last year covering the use of Facebook Live in the 2016 US Election) and has spread to become a multichannel method, with livestreaming now available on Twitter and Instagram too.

However, this organic content type is predominantly viewed as a method of preaching to the converted and engaging their established voter base. What counts in an election is the ability to win over voters who wouldn’t normally vote your way.

The Conservatives are now targeting potential swing voters on Snapchat by focusing on economic security and their ability to negotiate a good Brexit deal with a Theresa May voiceover. Snap Ads in this format reportedly start at $3,000 per month (at the time of writing, this converts to approximately £2320.37 per month).

On Facebook, their general through-line has been a focus on opposition leaders and their stances on certain current affairs – namely Brexit and national security. Labour, meanwhile, are attempting to use the Obama mantra of appealing for hope through positive messages around their manifesto – much of which has been relatively well-received.

Both campaigns have also been very successful in creating reactive content. As Harold MacMillan spuriously said, “Events, dear boy, events” are what shapes campaigns and throw things off course. The Conservatives were quick to capitalise on Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn’s respective mathematical slip-ups, whilst Labour have used recent attacks in London and Manchester to question Theresa May’s effectiveness in dealing with terrorism and national security when Home Secretary.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, email campaigns have played a huge part in voter and volunteer mobilisation. Email marketing can still be one of the most engaging forms of digital marketing. When personalised and made bespoke, some studies show that this rate can increase by up to 45%. Labour have taken full advantage of this, using another Bernie Sanders model of “You won’t get a revolution if you don’t ask for one”. The basic principle is that many people are passionate about particular parties, causes or candidates but don’t necessarily know how to help or get involved. Over the course of this campaign, Labour have sent daily emails to their lists showing the different ways to get involved. For demographics who are likely to be cash-rich but are time-poor, Labour suggests donating a small amount to go towards Facebook ads and leaflets. For the reverse, they suggest getting involved in leaflet drops and canvassing.


Political campaigns, because of the immense pressure to deliver, very often provide much food for thought for marketers. The overarching lesson of this campaign so far is learning to play the hand you’re dealt at the table you’re at. Because Mr Corbyn’s leadership ratings pale in comparison to Mrs May’s, they’ve focused on displaying alternative public voices and capitalising on what has objectively been a flawed campaign on the part of the Conservatives. It should also be clear that an omnichannel approach is vital to succeeding. Whilst the move to an increasingly digital landscape is a positive step, one should not downplay the importance of more conventional methods like PR, OOH and actually talking to voters. Ultimately consumers/voters don’t care where they see the message, as long as it is cohesive.


Written by Andrew Thomson