LONDON (AdAge.com) -- To see how much the British Conservative Party's approach to marketing has changed, just check its website where it hawks BabyGros -- or, in American, onesies -- bearing the slogan "Future prime minister." It's also run an ad on the massively popular music service Spotify as a way of flouting ad restrictions and created a video diary for its candidate, added to the more traditional tactics, such as a logo change, as part of the run-up to next year's general election.
The Tories have been dogged for decades by the memory of Margaret Thatcher, burdened by the image of a party that appeals to older people who live outside of major cities and dislike change. But the current leader, David Cameron, has successfully thrown off this image to present himself as a modern and trustworthy future prime minister. He's even managed to persuade Britons that they can relate to him, even though he had a ridiculously privileged, wealthy upbringing, unlike grocer's daughter Mrs. Thatcher. Mr. Cameron and his wife, Samantha -- a successful businesswoman and rich heiress in her own right -- have become a believable first couple in waiting.
"It is one of the most impressive, truly integrated campaigns I've seen," said Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of communications consultancy Engine Business. "It doesn't seem like a big, monolithic campaign shouting at you, because it's an excellent mixture of lots of elements. I think that in 20 years' time people will still be talking about the momentous change that the Conservative party has pulled off."
So how are they doing it? For a start, their team includes former editor of the Sun newspaper David Yelland, and head of brand communications Anna-Maren Ashford, who previously worked at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/ Y&R and has said that she finds the Conservatives provide a far more creative environment to work in than an advertising agency.
They began by updating their logo, replacing the aggressive torch motif with an environmentally friendly oak tree. They have energetically targeted key seats with direct mail, and kept up a low-level advertising presence with the help of ad agency Euro RSCG, London.
Chris Pinnington, the agency's global chief operating officer, who is close to the account, refused to comment on what it's planning for next year, but said: "Everybody is frantically working on the general-election campaign. David [Jones, global CEO] and I are stuck heavily into it."
U.K. political parties are not allowed to advertise on TV or radio except for official (unpaid for) party political broadcasts at election time, so the Conservatives have gotten around the restriction by becoming the first political party to advertise on digital-music site Spotify. The site allows users to listen to any music they choose for free, provided they listen to a small number of ads.
The 45-second Spotify ad, by Euro RSCG, begins by saying, "With Spotify, you only listen to the stuff you want to hear, right? Well, sorry to spoil your day, but here's something you don't want to hear," followed by a message about rising U.K. debt levels. It concludes by saying, "But here's something you do want to hear. There'll be an election within the next eight months -- your chance to end the madness by voting for a positive Conservative alternative."
Just as it did in the Obama campaign, digital is playing a major role for Mr. Cameron. He updates the "webcameron" internet video diary and has a site, myconservatives.com, to replicate President Obama's grass-roots mobilization campaign, as well as a new and improved party website and plans for digital campaign with a personal touch.
From a PR perspective, Mr. Cameron has focused on issues that everyone thinks about -- education, health, the environment -- and presenting them in the context of the Camerons' own personal choices and struggles. Mr. Deshmukh observed, "Appealing directly to voters has allowed them to jump over the media controlled analysis of how they are perceived."
On the other hand, they have kept enough in the campaign to please core voters but cleverly avoided the classic old-guard Conservative right-wing subjects like asylum-seekers, immigration and benefit cheats that might alienate potential new voters. Instead they have concentrated on talking about things that matter to non-Conservatives, in order to claim the middle-ground voters, who previously supported Tony Blair in such great numbers.
The Conservative Party is widely expected to win the next election, the exact timing of which is decided by the incumbent prime minister. But it must be no later June 3, 2010. After a deeply unenthusiastic response to the 2005 election, the U.K. public appears to be engaged in politics and politicians for the first time since Mr. Blair's first election back in 1997.
But, really, a onesie?
"If I were an active campaigning Conservative I wouldn't put my child in one, because I don't like the politicization of kids," said Mr. Deshmukh. "But as a way of putting out the message that young parents are involved, it's very effective. They were sold at the party conference, which in the past was God's waiting room, full of people who could remember the First World War."