Surprisingly, not much media attention has been lavished in India onto a video ad that seems to have helped Boris Johnson deliver the biggest electoral win to the Conservatives since Margaret Thatcher in 1987, giving him 365 seats in a House of 650, and sinking the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour to a meager 203 seats, down 59 – the worst loss for the party since 1935.
While the Conservative campaign message has predominantly centred on “Get Brexit Done”, a near-the-end campaign video, a parody of the 2003 Christmas-themed Love Actually movie, featuring Boris Johnson, seems to have massively swung voters to the Tory fold.
First, the back story. Prime Minister Boris Johnson released a campaign video on 10 December, parodying one of Love Actually’s best remembered scenes (the original movie starred Hugh Grant and Keira Knightly). It showed Johnson knock on a voter’s door and silently deliver a message via notes written on large white cards.
In the movie, the suitor’s message is designed to woo his romantic interest with talk of eternal love while her husband sits inside the house, believing carol singers are at the door.
Johnson’s message was rather more prosaic, but more business-like: “With any luck by next year, we’ll have Brexit done … your vote has never been more important.”
In Johnson’s three-minute video, which has been viewed more than 2 million times on Twitter, the prime minister also upheld his vow to “get Brexit done” while flashing cards urging people to vote Conservative. “We only need 9 more seats to get a majority,” one of the handwritten signs reads. Johnson’s video left those watching it with a clear message: “Vote Conservative, actually.”
Since his election in late July of this year, the British prime minister has tried to navigate Britain's exit from the European Union. However, after facing substantial parliamentary defeats, Johnson was still far away from fulfilling his promise of Brexit. In a series of setbacks for Johnson, Parliament voted to block a no-deal Brexit (or hard exit without a deal with the European Union). Johnson finally called the 12 December general elections to win back a majority. The gamble has paid off handsomely.
The Love Actually video seems to have turned the tide for Johnson in what many said was headed to be a cliff-hanger election. The 2 million+ initial views are not a true indicator of the impact of the election video. The offline media coverage, and general word-of-mouth for once exceeded the virality of the video, handing Johnson an epic victory.
Meanwhile, controversy inevitably chased the success of the video. Hugh Grant, the 59-year-old actor, who was the star of Love Actually first congratulated Boris Johnson saying, “I thought it was quite well done, very high production values”, but then also made a snide remark, “But I did notice that one of the cards from the original film that he didn’t hold up was the one where Andrew Lincoln held up a card saying, “Because at Christmas you tell the truth”.” Grant who campaigned for Labour and for some Liberals, also accused the Tories of using Russian money to make the Love Actually parody!
Meanwhile, Labour’s Rosena Allin-Khan, surfaced with allegations saying that on 22 November, she had used the same format to persuade a Conservative voter to switch to her party. Her video too got her 1.5 million views.
This is not the first time that a Conservative ad has made news, big news. The biggest of course ever, has been the famous 1978 “Labour Isn’t Working” ad that has entered the history books as one of the most persuasive political campaigns ever, making its creators Saatchi & Saatchi equally famous.
"Labour Isn't Working" was an advertising campaign that was run by the Conservative Party in 1978 in anticipation that Labour Party Prime Minister James Callaghan would call a general election. It was revived for the general election campaign the next year, after the government lost a vote of no confidence in the wake of the Winter of Discontent. The original poster's design was a picture of a snaking dole queue outside of an unemployment office. Above it was the slogan "Labour Isn't Working" with the phrase "Britain's better off with the Conservatives" in a smaller text below. The picture in the poster, history has it, was originally planned with 100 extras to be used for the picture. However, only 20 volunteers from the Hendon Young Conservatives turned up to be photographed.
The desired effect was had therefore to be achieved by photographing the same people repeatedly and then striping them together … there was no photoshop those days! The way the photo was taken was somehow leaked to media and Labour's Denis Healey criticised it in the House of Commons, saying the people in it were not genuinely unemployed and said that the Conservatives were "selling politics like soap-powder".
But the “Labour Isn’t Working”campaign was a resounding success as it was viewed as backing up the Conservatives' claims against Labour. In May 1979, the Conservatives won the election with a 43-seat majority with the party leader, Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister. Conservative Party treasurer, Lord Thorneycroft claimed that the poster won the election for the Conservatives. Saatchi & Saatchi were celebrated and toasted in ad circles as the new messiahs of cut-through creative. In 1999, Campaign voted the poster as the "Best Poster of the Century".
The current Love Actually parody ad may not ever become quite as famous. But it surely did its job for Boris Johnson and his Conservatives. In fact delivered an even bigger victory than back in 1978. It may have been highly tactical, compared to the more strategic “Labour Isn’t Working” campaign. But as they say, nothing succeeds like success. No?!
Dr. Sandeep Goyal writes on a variety of contemporary subjects, commenting and analyzing as the events unfold.
Top news, insights and analysis every weekday
Sign up for Campaign Bulletins