Labour's pink bandwagon: the message is the real issue, not the colour

Labour's pink "woman to woman" bus
Labour's pink "woman to woman" bus

Despite all the attention given to the colour, the Labor 'Woman to Woman' bus is actually just a bad campaign idea, says Droga5's head of strategy Toto Ellis.

So Labour's pink (or magenta) minibus, unveiled this morning as a key part of its attempt to woe the female vote, has been transformed into a passing bandwagon that's attracted almost universal derision.

It wasn't just the colour of the bus that affronted so many women, but also the message "Woman to Woman", which Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman claims is their campaign 'idea'.

We spend a lot of time in our agency dreaming up ideas for brands, but we never ever begin coming up with ideas until the brand purpose for our clients’ businesses is clear. In other words, what’s the role in peoples’ lives that our brands want to take up?

That's part of the problem with "Woman to Woman". It's a meaningless phrase - it lacks a promise and a purpose and it doesn’t hang off a wider message from Labour. It’s a tactic at best - I think.

A couple of years ago I spent time with former Labour spindoctor Alastair Campbell, and later met Labour Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna at a dinner.

Campbell talked about how the Labour campaign that brought Blair to victory was galvanised around one very clear purpose - to Modernise Britain. Now whether you believed it or not, or believe they did, you can’t deny that that’s a very simple, very powerful and very positive purpose that the Labour Party could aim at in the lives of Britons.

Equally, every subsequent message and campaign in the lead up to the 1997 election could also then hang off that promise. Modernising the economy by doing X, modernising the economy by doing Y - and so forth.

It’s also quite instructive that Obama (with whom we worked on the Florida campaign) swept to power twice with an equally crystallised (and importantly positive) promise of 'change' in the first instance and 'forward' in the second.

Once again, there was a purpose and a positive promise for American voters and any individual sub-campaign or policy could hang off the 'change' or 'forward' idea. So there was a clear idea about what Obama was going to change about healthcare, the economy, unemployment, foreign policy for the better, and so forth.

So here’s my worry for Labour. I asked Umunna what Labour’s equivalent purpose or promise was for voters along the lines of "modernise Britain". He answered with several vague sentences of ambitions, tactics, hopes… but not one clear purpose.

This isn't implicit personal criticism of Umunna nor praise for Campbell. I’m just saying I don’t think Labour know the one positive promise they offer. And that’s where the Harriet Harman initiative really falls down.

It's not the fact that the van is pink or magenta or whatever it is - it’s the lack of a promise for women.

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