In the run-up to Christmas the Conservative Party sent out a direct mail
appeal to 100,000 homes of Tory voters asking for donations to the
Given the Tories’ low standing in the opinion polls and the party’s
internal troubles, a poor response would have been little surprise.
Yet, within six weeks more than pounds 450,000 poured into Conservative
Party Central Office, making it one of the party’s most successful
direct response campaigns.
But this was an appeal with a difference. The campaign had been put
together by Claydon Heeley International and was themed around a
Prizes included a pounds 14,000 Rover 400 and a pounds 4000 Caribbean
cruise. The more money supporters donated, the more chances they got to
enter the draw.
So impressed was Conservative Party Central Office by the initiative
that it is now looking for other direct marketing schemes that can raise
funds, recruit members - and, crucially, win votes.
Message to the electorate
The ‘lottery’ appeal marked the first time the Conservative Party had
formally handed an agency a direct marketing campaign and signalled its
determination to look at new methods and ideas for reaching its
For political parties, the attraction of direct marketing is that it
allows them to make use of the rich data they already possess on their
members and likely supporters and target them for specific messages.
In the last General Election the Tories used databases to identify
people who’d bought shares in privatised services, and then contacted
them to try to persuade them that they’d lose out under Labour.
The Liberal Democrats also launched a direct marketing campaign through
TBWA-Holmes Knight Ritchie, in key marginals it believed it could take
from the Tories.
And even before it took on the ‘New’ tag, Labour was looking at ways to
use direct marketing, offering members its own affinity credit card (in
conjunction with the Co-Operative Bank) as early as 1989 and making a
habit of looking for new recruits among the ranks of trade unions.
But now all the parties are looking at more ambitious ways of using
direct marketing, including campaigns aimed at specific social groups.
These could include law and order literature aimed at homeowners who
have been burgled and made insurance claims, campaigns on education for
parents with children of school age, and literature on pensions targeted
Right on target
The idea is to target directly, to support the broader mass-media
messages of TV, press and posters.
‘In terms of using direct marketing, there is tremendous potential for
reaching selected target groups with more specific messages which will
have an appeal and an impact,’ says Claydon Heeley, director Leo
Campbell, who is currently discussing other direct schemes with the
‘The Conservatives have the largest membership database of any political
party. If used to its fullest, its potential is massive.’
Hot contest over direct stance
At Evans Hunt Scott, which handles Labour’s direct marketing, account
handler Gary Bond says: ‘Membership and political donations are still
the mainstay of most direct marketing for political parties. But there
is a desire on behalf of Labour to look at new ideas and initiatives
that can be carried out through direct campaigns.
‘Direct marketing is becoming seen as much more part of the whole
political advertising mix, rather then just an administrative tool to
talk to existing Labour members and supporters.’
Mike Cunnington, Labour’s business planning manager, says there is
growing support for more use of direct marketing to support mass-media
political campaigns: ‘There’s going to be far greater use of direct
marketing in political campaigns. People have woken up to its potential.
‘We’ve worked with large companies such as NDL on our database,
identifying potential voters, who might not be on our mailing list as
Labour members or supporters, but are potential Labour voters in the
With the next General Election looming, which is sure to be bitterly
contested in key marginal seats, the ammunition that databases and
direct marketing provides could just swing the balance.