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Labour’s northern pivot in their advertising — how it happened and failed

The party was in stasis after leaving open their northern heartlands.

Labour were running 183 adverts on Friday 9th December. Of these adverts, only one showed the party pivoting towards the northern heartlands that countless commentators asserted were under threat from the Conservatives. At the end of November the party was supposed to be “appealing to leavers in Midlands and north” for the last fortnight. However, the party did not change strategy, using the same adverts that it had utilised for the previous few weeks including continuing its messaging aimed at younger people, public sector workers and those who commute by train.

Labour’s messaging was largely consistent for first two to three weeks of the campaign with little change in tactics visible. Only one video spoke to the countless traditional Labour supporters who likely voted leave, who we now know led to a huge Conservative majority.

In it an old miner calls Conservative leaders and former leaders bastards, as well as Nigel Farage, the video is emotive, patronising, angry and powerful. However, the video was only being tested, with only a few videos rolling out in the final week. The lack of a major pivot led to Labour’s worst election result since 1935, Labour’s response to the cultural cataclysm of Brexit was its own outdated use of ‘Thatcher’.

This one single small spend advert was a needle in a haystack. Labour’s approach did not shift for the last week of the campaign by any noticeable measure other than spend. The major new adverts sent out were ads centred on helping voters ‘find their polling station’ alongside adverts focused on the Green New deal and areas of policy aimed at younger voters. Evidence that the party was going after Labour leavers was not clear, instead the party was doubling down on trying to influence more urban metropolitan areas.

Coding the 183 adverts running via Facebook’s Ad Library on Friday 7th December by type of advert and then by subject, it was clear that the party was focused on pushing its get out the vote (GOTV) operation, the green industrial revolution and a ‘fair tax’ calculator it has created. Other aspects such as transport, the NHS or the economy appear to be of secondary concern. Labour was avoiding Brexit and bread and butter concerns to focus on issues that are of greater concern for their younger core support.

On December 12th we saw the public response to Labours digital and offline campaign, with their lack of pivot a clear issue as the party flew blind into near Armageddon.


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