September 24, 2007 / 9:12 AM / 10 years ago

Labour turns to 1979 nemesis for election ads

LONDON (Reuters) - Saatchi & Saatchi, whose anti-Labour campaign slogans helped sweep Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979, will run the Labour Party’s advertising ahead of the next election.

A statement by Labour’s election coordinator Douglas Alexander ran on the party’s Web site under a photograph showing Prime Minister Gordon Brown with the banner “Not flash, just Gordon” which had been prepared by the London-based agency.

The slogan can be interpreted as showing up the difference between Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair or Conservative rival David Cameron, while conjuring up images of the 1930s comic book hero Flash Gordon.

“It doesn’t strike me as capturing the imagination of the public,” said Tim Bell, chairman of Chime Communications and Saatchi’s managing director at the time of the Thatcher campaign.

“I interpret this as them trying to find a palatable way to distance themselves from the Blair era,” Claire Beale, editor of Campaign magazine, said. “I think it is quite funny and makes it look like Gordon has a sense of humour and principles.”

Brown, who holds an opinion poll lead, said last week now was not the right time for an election but declined to rule out calling one before the end of the year. Labour’s term can run until 2010. It has been in power since 1997.


Saatchi & Saatchi made a name for itself with its “Labour isn’t working” campaign poster for Thatcher showing a queue of people snaking out from an unemployment office and disappearing into the distance.

The original Saatchi business, led by advertising moguls Maurice and Charles Saatchi, grew to become the world’s biggest ad firm within 16 years of its formation in 1970. The brothers departed in 1995 and formed a new company M&C Saatchi, which has created ad campaigns for a number of Conservative elections.

The remnants of their former agency are now owned by French advertising group Publicis.

The government’s last election campaign in 2005 was run by the London office of TBWA, part of Omnicom, and used the line “Britain is working”.

Brown appointed Alexander to his election role shortly after he succeeded Blair as prime minister on June 27. After decades in Blair’s shadow, Brown has won support by distancing himself from his predecessor on a string of domestic issues.

Cameron’s Conservative Party has been in talks with agencies about handling its election advertising. The party’s campaign strategist is Steve Hilton, a former advertising executive with the Saatchi brothers.

Hilton was instrumental in the “demon eyes” advertisements that ran in 1997 showing Blair with glowing red eyes. They were withdrawn after the Advertising Standards Authority said they depicted Blair in a dishonest and sinister way.

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