Rewriting the rules of election campaigning

By Creative Review

As the dust settles on the 2017 General Election, what have we learnt about the role of creativity in getting people to the polls?, asks Ella Saltmarshe. This was an election where traditional advertising was largely rejected; broadcast & billboards were replaced by micro-messaging, memes and new players. Could the snap campaigns that came out of this snap election, rewrite the rules?

In the final few days before the UK went to the polls, our non-partisan campaign encouraging young women to recognise the power of their vote, went viral. The #SHEvotes campaign is estimated to have reached over 30 million women.

#SHEvotes subverted the tradition of tightly controlled election campaigning. With just one week to go to until polling day, we put an open call-out to the creative community for content. We provided an insight (young women are one of the least likely demographics to vote), a unifying hashtag (#SHEvotes) and full creative freedom. There was no client, no budget and no agency for this open-sourced campaign.

Young women and the platforms and people who spoke to them, made #SHEvotes their own. This meant that diverse audiences (ranging from the instagram followers of beauty bloggers to those of an intersectional feminist zine) were attracted to it because it felt native to them. Cosmopolitan and Pretty 52 developed their own social content, a bakery made #SHEvotes donuts, Wah Nails posted SHEvotes manicures, people took selfies in front of mirrors with #SHEvotes scrawled in lipstick, a father of four daughters in Brighton painted a #SHEvotes Wonder Woman mural (shown top), female film collective SKMY produced vox pops of influencers tackling the main reasons young women don’t vote. Over 100 piece of original content were produced.

As the content came pouring in, PR volunteers helped to get the message out to influencers all over the country. Support came from female celebrities including singers Marina and the Diamonds and Grace Chatto, media personalities Billie JD Porter, Lydia-Rose Bright, Gemma Styles, Scarlett Moffatt and Munroe Bergdorf, models Daisy Lowe and Jasmine Guinness and campaigners like Sarah Brown & Nimko Ali.

All this began just two weeks before the election when a group of us working in the creative industries discovered the shocking figures about young women and voting. We quickly corralled a collective of friends from across advertising, PR and entertainment for ‘an emergency election hack’. We presented them with a brief based on the insight that young women were one of the least likely demographics to vote.

Over beer and pizza, strangers started working together like Alice Burton, a creative at Y&R who joined forces with Iain Wimbush, founder of entertainment production company Rumpus Media, to produce Women Talk Politics in Loos; Sara Bender, Strategy Director at Mindshare who came up with the idea of encouraging employers to give their employees flexibility to on election day, which became the Time To Vote campaign and Sam Roddick who teamed up with filmmaker Rebecca Lloyd Evans & BritDoc founders Jess Search & Beadie Finzi to produce the non-partisan Marginal Carnival. All of these projects were done for free and produced within a week. Some were integrated into the #SHEvotes campaign, while others developed their own identities.

The #SHEvotes campaign still required strategy and leadership, just not of the traditional command and control kind. On our furiously busy Slack channel, we supported the creative projects, wrote open briefs to ensure work was strategic, connected key players, did lots of cheerleading, wrangled resources, managed content production, coordinated PR and targeted the content so it reached young women all over the country.

On election day, we watched in awe as young women all over the country used the hashtag as they voted. On the morning after election day we woke up to the realisation that young women all over the country had turned out to vote in historic numbers – thanks to the many intersecting campaigns focusing on youth turnout.

We hope that in addition to inspiring young women to use their voices, #SHEvotes strengthens the case for open-sourced creative campaigning that’s more like movement-building and less like Malcolm Tucker. #SHEvotes surfaced the extraordinary passion and generosity of people working in the creative industries and has taught us that it’s never too late to mobilise that to try and make a difference.

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