The May 7 elections in the United Kingdom will be so close that political marketing and digital campaigning could well make a difference. Consultants and strategists will make legitimate albeit inflated claims of credit regardless. The campaign year has already been compared with 2008 and 2012 in the US as likely landmarks in technological advance. But it’s a steeper climb.
Television and radio ads — sorry, adverts — by political parties and candidates are prohibited in Britain. That would seem to open the door to extensive web adverts, and they have indeed flourished, along with instant spin on social media. But data privacy strictures enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office permit the promotion of political parties, candidates, and referenda through digital channels only to individuals who have consented to receive such communications.
Marketers are liable for peer-to-peer forwarding and third-party list acquisitions that breach the rules. This means campaigns have to get permission afresh each election to contact some voters. Across the board it means that what occurs in the U.S. at the speed of “Furious 7” transpires in the UK at the speed of “Downton Abbey.”
My MediaPost panel gurus Brittney Greer and Alex Masters-Waage told us we shouldn’t expect to see the cutting edge honed in UK campaigns this spring. If Labor outperforms expectations, its leveraging of union lists and volunteers will be praised. If Conservatives outperform, its spending will be praised. But in contrast to e-government, where the Brits outperform us Yankees on the national level, e-campaigning runs about a decade behind.
However, there’s an X factor whence innovations may bust out, an aspect glimpsed in the U.S. in 2000 but much more relevant in today’s UK multi-party scramble, and that’s the advocacy of tactical voting. Digital marketing seems exquisitely adaptable to encouraging and even facilitating votes for a second-choice candidate in constituencies where the first choice has no chance of winning and the second choice could aid the party of preference in piling up more victories nationwide. UKIP’s Nigel Farage is calling for tactical voting, and others are calling for it against him. (UKIP stands for UK Independence Party; it opposes immigration.)
Swapmyvote.uk asks site visitors to select their preferred party and the parties they are willing to vote for from drop-down menus, verifies eligibility and residence, and then finds inverse matches with other visitors who reside elsewhere. Thanks to the considerable sums expended by billionaire Lord Michael Ashcroft, who resigned his Tory seat on March 31, there is unprecedented polling data available on more than 150 of the 650 constituencies where races are close.
These are dots worth a political strategist’s connecting in adverts and opted-in communications. Should it work, we’ll see and hear about it soon enough.