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A Very Digital Election Nears its Finale
Image Credit  UK Ministry of Defence Creative Commons license

A Very Digital Election Nears its Finale

With the chance for Britain to have its say on who should lead the country for the next five years, the marketing and PR departments at each party should be glad for the respite.

Voting for May’s general election is set to get underway, and any moderately frequent user of social networks will have seen the impact on their timelines. In the absence of official party documents outlining budgets for marketing (due for release following May 7), analysts and insiders have highlighted an even greater spend on reaching voters through digital channels.

Reports from the FT suggest that spend on the election marketing mainstays of posters, direct mail and leaflets is down from the 2010 poll, with plenty more activity and campaigns being launched on Facebook, Twitter and the parties’ own sites. 

The question of whether this carries more of an impact on voters than face-to-face events and a confident showing at a televised debate remains to be seen. But given the candidates’ insistence that everyone can ‘do their bit’, it seems their parties’ use of digital marketing is following the same lines. Here are some of the most notable experiments that you may or may not have noticed.  


An attempt at bringing David Cameron into a second consecutive spell as Prime Minister has been spearheaded by social media. BBC estimates show the Conservative party to be on board with the idea that organic posting just isn’t enough - its marketing team splashing over £100,000 a month on Facebook advertising

Early signs show this to be paying off in the generation of ‘soft’ metrics - the Conservatives’ Facebook fanbase outweighing Labour’s by 463,000 to 296,000. If that’s not enough, the Conservatives’ Facebook page even has its very own exclusive; pictures of David Cameron have littered the feed and the account’s cover photo, but the Prime Minister has remained largely absent from billboards.

As for the aim of this activity, the capture of email addresses appears to be a prime task. The same BBC figures show that most of the party’s staggering Facebook budget is pledged towards gaining mail sign-ups in a lead generation 101.

Twitter hasn’t been ignored by the Conservatives, though, and dual-screeners would have noticed paid-for placements being merged with live tweeting in the party’s social coverage of live TV debates.

Unlike many of its competitors, including Labour, the party has its very own app for posting content. And judging by the emphasis it places on bringing messages and policies out of the program and into the users’ social networks, someone must have been listening to all those presentations about ‘shareable’ content. There’s even a gamification edge courtesy of a points league for the most frequent sharers, while party news and alerts are pushed out to those on the opt-in list.    

If the predictions of the Conservatives spending three times as much as Labour on its campaign prove to be true, voters are certainly getting an idea of where the money has gone.  


Deciding against jostling with the Conservatives on Facebook, it appears Labour has had better success on microblogging site Twitter. Leading in the follower stakes with 212,000 compared to the Conservatives’ 155,000, recent activity on the Labour Twitter page shows snapshots of policies delivered with a note urging retweets for those in agreeance.

Still, Labour’s digital marketing push has been ‘streamlined’ this time round through the omission of an official party app. The group’s ‘iCampaign’ service from 2010 had an app for iPhone voters which served as a handy resource for party-related news, events and Labour’s own manifesto.

Alas, the app is no more and Labour has been focusing on other digital techniques to woo voters. 

Within this comes regular uploads to YouTube, which have blended Labour pledges with a flood of coverage for party leader Ed Miliband. Meanwhile videos from influencers in Delia Smith, Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman have shifted the focus away from Miliband and onto the party’s high-profile supporters.
Indeed, a fair chunk of Labour’s campaign is about putting faces to messages - proven in part by the fact Miliband is hoping to co-ordinate four million conversations with voters in the four months leading up to May 7.   

Liberal Democrats

For those who have ever expressed even a modicum of intent of voting Lib Dem, expect to hear from the party this week. The group’s own version of ‘retargeting’ will see over two million tailored messages posted through Facebook and pre-roll on YouTube as Thursday nears its finale.

Project ‘Manatee’ is the result of in-house technology merging with the same ‘Nationbuilder’ software used by Barack Obama for his two election wins. This pairs UK electoral roll data with millions of Facebook and YouTube user profiles for what the party describes as Britain’s “largest ever targeted digital campaign”. 

Despite this being a Lib Dem creation, the party has outsourced at least some of its marketing tech for the big push. With help from UK-based Digital Element and its NetAcuity Edge product, the party has been able to deliver relevant on-site content to users according to the location indicated by their IP address.

This includes details of local policies, which are paired with general updates from the party for the 4-5 million visitors expected to flock to its site in the lead up to the election.

With a campaign budget thought to be around a quarter of the Conservatives’, cost-effective digital activity will have been asked to make up for the lack of a warchest for posters and direct mail. But whether success will come from the Lib Dems’ plans to focus on a smaller group of voters to guarantee support will be revealed later this month.

The Green Party

Predictably trailing in publicity for its marketing efforts, much hope was placed on the Greens’ election adverts becoming viral smash hits. 

One in particular seems to have caught the eye. A pro-austerity boyband featuring actors with an uncanny resemblance to Cameron, Miliband and co. sing from the same hymn sheet, as the Greens urge voters to “change the tune”

The Greens have also blocked the return of an official party app used in 2010, but active posting on Twitter and Facebook could lead to yet another decrease in the amount it spends on ‘unsolicited’ messaging, such as leaflets, as seen between 2005 and 2010.

But million-pound social pushes could yet become par for the course at Green HQ, as the group looks to 2020 and a few more years of fast-growing supporter bases to make a claim on the big stage. 

Richard Towey

Richard Towey

Richard serves as head of content at PerformanceIN. After many years spent covering developments from the automotive, sports, travel and finance sectors, he eventually turned his full attention to reporting on stories from the fast-evolving world of digital marketing. Richard now heads up the editorial team at PerformanceIN: the performance marketing industry's leading publication.  

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