Moray Maclennan. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA

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IN SA’s crucial election year, the man who ran numerous campaigns for Britain’s Conservative Party has one piece of advice for local parties — negative works.

Moray MacLennan is the global CEO of M&C Saatchi and has been in SA for the opening of the Johannesburg offices of its local affiliate, M&C Saatchi Abel.

MacLennan believes good political advertising is predicated on three key factors.

The first should be to unify the party internally. “It’s all well and good to have a strategy; then the starting gun goes and everyone scatters in different directions. People don’t vote for a divided party. The internal audience must be behind the message.”

Secondly, says MacLennan, the advertising message must be agenda-setting, intelligent, eye-catching and expressed in great copy. Part of that process is being tactical and beating opposition parties on the day with what the issue or topic should be. In the last UK election, he says, the Tories released an issue paper or statement an hour before a daily Labour Party briefing, which forced the latter to respond.

Thirdly, he believes paid-for broadcast advertising works but it has to be negative. “People aren’t interested in hearing parties say how good they are; what cuts through is the negative. Parties can talk about positive attributes from the podium but on the posters you have to say why your opposition is appalling and a sense of outrage needs to be created.”

MacLennan has equally strong views on the role of television in the media mix, saying while digital is big, TV should not be written off. He says in most markets TV is a growing medium, as is its revenue, because people like to remain passive and be entertained.

MacLennan says online and multimedia engagement should come later but that the symbiosis with TV doesn’t always exist. Integration is complicated and he urges agencies to stop their clients from looking at online channels as all alike. Each channel, whether it be YouTube or Facebook, should be for different purposes based on specific goals.

MacLennan caused a stir in the industry when he had positive things to say about ad-blocking — where online users can opt not to see or engage with commercial messages.

“We can’t just wring our hands; it’s a wake-up call for the industry that our work needs to be useful. We have no right to interrupt someone’s activity online with unsolicited, boring and irrelevant advertising.”

He also has a word of caution for multinational agency networks operating in Africa. “It’s the final place where things are going to get snapped up and it’s a good time for agencies to make money. But it’s not about buying the balance sheet, it’s the intentions and motivations of the people. I avoid anyone who asks about an earn out — it should be about an earn in.” He means those who sell their agencies should stick around to work hard, and share in joint success, instead of waiting for a cash payout.