BELOW-THE-LINE: Political parties vie for direct approach

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 party.

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

at OAPs.

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

next election.’

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.


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