U.K. Politicians Court Mommy Bloggers

Powerful Site Mumsnet Runs Campaign Ads for Both Sides but Grills Leaders Before Election

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- The U.K. election, scheduled for early May, has already been tagged the "Mumsnet election," using the country's top parenting website as a metaphor for online, engaged, middle-class women.

And top politicians are paying attention to mommy bloggers. The two main political parties -- the ruling Labour government and the challenging Conservative Party -- are using the Mumsnet.com website as a battleground in the lead-up to the election this spring. Both parties' leaders come to the site's London headquarters to conduct online chats with Mumsnetters, and both have created unique ads for the site.

A Labour party ad
A Labour party ad
In a key issue for mommy bloggers, Labour and Conservatives contested policies about tax breaks for child care, playing out their conflict on the site. Labour started the debate with an ad saying, "Are you earning more than 42,000 pounds? Say hello to David. And goodbye to your child tax credits. Vote Tory and you'll get less than you bargained for."

The Conservative (Tory) party riposte was an ad claiming that the party is committed to tax credits for everyone earning under 78,000 pounds.

For Conservative leader David Cameron, a date with Mumsnet was his first engagement after coming back from paternity leave in 2006. For Labour leader Gordon Brown, a Mumsnet session gave rise to the "biscuitgate" controversy, when he repeatedly failed to name his favorite cookie. The traditional media picked up on the lapse, and blew the story up into a demonstration of Mr. Brown's chronic indecisiveness in all matters of government. Depending on which party wins the election, either Mr. Cameron or Mr. Brown will be the next prime minister.

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Mumsnet, which has 1.2 million unique users and 20,000 daily forum posts, is the biggest and best known of the U.K. online parenting sites. Seventy-five percent of its audience are college graduates, with an average household income of 76,000 pounds.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet, said, "Contrary to what people might believe, politics has always been widely discussed on our site, but with election fever taking over, we are being courted more assiduously. We thought very carefully about taking political advertising. We give both parties the same placement and rate."

The site has firm principles -- including a refusal to take ads from McDonald's or Nestle, and a ban on ads for formula milk and cosmetic surgery -- which have helped it to secure credibility and influence in the U.K. media. Mumsnet recently secured a ban (and reams of press coverage) for an ad proclaiming, "Career women are bad mothers," which was intended to provoke debate to prove the power of outdoor advertising.

And when marketers for vitamin brand Haliborange made fake forum postings on the site, Mumsetters orchestrated a campaign that made "Haliborange kills otters" reach the top of the Google search rankings for Haliborange.

Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Engine Business, said, "Mumsnet is a platform that is being watched carefully by mainstream, traditional media. But Mumsnet's current prominence doesn't represent a sudden realization that women are more important in this election than previous ones -- the site is important because it is a new way of talking to women, using a platform that is focused on them. Women have always been disproportionately powerful in British elections."

Articulate, middle-class women are more likely to vote, because they are directly involved in education and health-care decisions for their families, and they are more likely to sway between parties, making them a crucial target for the political parties.

Ms. Roberts agreed: "This is the first election in the U.K. where social media is in full flight. Mumsnet is a readily understandable community, and it's very cohesive compared to Facebook or Twitter -- politicians know who they are talking to. Women are key floating voters, but the idea that Mumsnet is a block vote is ludicrous. Mumsnetters are a smart bunch and they are not easily swayed by messages from political parties. They hear the messages and interpret them for themselves."

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