1000heads: The 'word of mouth' election

Our word of mouth spider sense started tingling this morning when we came across this article from Labour Matters.

“Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party, and Sarah Brown, were joined by Cabinet colleagues today to personally canvass voters, up and down the country, by phone from Labour’s head office in London, as part of a mass canvass with thousands of supporters on the doorstep as well.

Labour’s “word of mouth” election campaign has seen thousands of activists spreading the word on the doorstep, by phone and through Labour’s cutting-edge virtual phone bank and iPhone App.

Both Gordon and Sarah Brown, plus several Cabinet Ministers, got to work on the phone bank and asked for people’s support at the ballot box, direct and down the line.

They called unscreened voters, listened to their views and explained Labour’s five pledges for a Future Fair For All – a Britain in which no one is left behind and everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their talent and share in future prosperity.”

We don’t think this qualifies as word of mouth.

At all.

In fact to us, this is broadcast in its purest sense; (cold) calling people and explaining pledges with one breath and with the next asking and soliciting support for the party in question. This really doesn’t qualify as word of mouth. Not in our book.

The piece continues with this quote from Harriet Harman:

“This is a word of mouth election, won by people not posters, and Labour is determined to make sure this is a grass roots election campaign, direct and authentic from start to finish.

“That’s why thousands of activists up and down the country are spreading the word on the doorstep and on the phone to warn that the Tories would wreck our economic recovery and leave families to sink or swim in tough times.

This isn’t conversation. This is bringing those very posters to the doorsteps of the nation and whether it will work or not remains to be seen.
But one thing’s for sure – this isn’t how you start meaningful, long-term relationships with advocates or detractors. This is as close to old-school, scatter-gun marketing & advertising as it gets.
Will it work? I doubt it. Is it conversational? Not really.


“During the phone canvass, Gordon Brown was told that the Party had made its 1,000,000th face to face relationship since Jan 1 2010.”

With respect Labour Matters, but… I’m not even sure what this means.

If you’re not registered to vote, do so now.

Pass it on.

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Author: James Whatley

Chief Strategy Officer in adland. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

13 thoughts on “1000heads: The 'word of mouth' election”

  1. I agree. This is just the old stuff, call centres full of activists cold-calling people in marginal constituencies. “Word of mouth” would be if something was so compelling that non-activists chose to explain it to their friends.

  2. Also, interesting that their 'digital' and 'social media' efforts are seen as completely separate and siloed from their 'grassroots', 'word of mouth' efforts. You'd have thought someone in the business of spreading support and relationships (i.e. politicians; political parties) would have bothered to read just a bit of all the fantastic content out there about WOM, spreadability and the on/offline connection, but the online efforts across all parties seem pretty tool-focused and narrow-minded. It's just bizarre.

  3. I got criticised by a local counsellor this week when trying to help our MP for Exeter shift from Broadcast to Social.

    The MP (Ben Bradshaw) has replied to maybe 20 tweets MAXIMUM, and now if bragging that he is “engaging people on Twitter”.

    Someone asked me today who I'm voting for. My answer: the party that engages with me.

    Currently, I'm not voting.

  4. Direct phone canvassing calls are less tolerated from political groups than they have ever been, and I already feel like I need to carry a stick to shoo away all the awful dead-tree-product political brochure peddlers at tube station entry-ways. This isn't just outdated, it's actually in direct contradiction with promises of information privacy and green/sustainable living policies.

    To me, this is more of a 'who else can we vote for?' election, and we're all struggling to find alternatives that are not either schizophrenic in policies or are making plans for things that are completely unfunded. Sadly, in the one domain where many of us would be happy to engage with campaigning politicians – in our own time on twitter and elsewhere online – only a handful of savvy politicians are actually present and listening.

    Agree this is not word of mouth at all. It's all mouth, and no coherence.

    Scott Gould Reply:

    You're so smart. I'm always afraid when I see you comment because I'm worried what I said just looks stupid compared to what you say!

    Great analysis and very good point – it's a “who else can we vote for?” election. I agree.

    mollyflatt Reply:

    Yep, I agree – as I said above, it gives me this totally bewildering sense that it's a group of people completely out of touch with what is going on in terms of people connecting with each other, let alone building exciting futures – which is what politics is supposed to be all about…

    Great comments guys.

  5. I think this post on the Data Protection implications of the Conservative's iPhone app is relevant here:


    It is certainly a more social approach than the labour call centres, but is founded on some fairly obnoxious principles.

  6. OK, on the surface this is outdated and that's not good. But as someone who really doesn't understand politics, I'd *welcome* someone knocking on my door and talking to me about it. There's lots of ways politicians could engage better, and Twitter might be one of them, but I want to talk to someone.

    It might be out of touch, or, it could just be that sometimes breaking down barriers is a good thing. Interaction is key and doing that face-to-face is the best thing you can do. I might not agree with the pride that Labour have with this tactic, but if they were going back to basics, and really engaging, I'd be impressed. I don't want to vote for someone who has hired someone who knows how to tweet. I want the one I believe in to change something. It's rare you can convey that in a tweet. I'm traditional at heart (rare for someone who works online) and I'd like people to replace tweets with real conversation sometimes. Especially the people who run the country. I don't want my politics in 140 characters.

  7. So far, Labour has been anything *but* conversational – my local MP ignored many tweets during and about the #debill readings, but instantly replied to any sort of negative tweets about her from ignored twits. This coming from one of Labour's recently installed 'twitter activists'.
    Democracy should be highly conversational, always. I'm bemused by the fact that any sort of one-to-one outreach at the moment comprises a whole lot of evangelism, and not much acting-upon-feedback.

  8. Mass media is the only way to reach the masses. The masses are the only way to get elected.

    How could one possibly have a conversation with tens of millions of people? (If you know, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime gig 😉 )

    Obama's real success was to use web & social media to raise huge amounts of money, not to get voted in. That that money was then spent on traditional campaign media such as TV, radio and print – to reach a far larger constituency than ever existed on Twitter – is the real story.

    (That the tech & media in-crowd forget how statistically insignificant they are is, sadly, another).

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