Not the first “internet election”, but the first British Age of Dialogue Election

There has been a lot of self satisfied commentary in the traditional media from journalists who seem very pleased that the current election has not fulfilled some people’s prophesies to be the “first British internet election”.  Rather everyone is calling it a TV and press election.  The big turning point was the election debates on TV.  The rise of Clegg in British voters’ minds is unarguably one of the strongest case studies Thinkbox could present as a brilliant example of brand awareness as a result of TV activity.  And at the time of writing the newspapers have taken their sides, backed their candidates and are lining up headlines for this Friday (7th May) to say it “was us what won it!”.

In fact to call this a traditional TV and print election is to misrepresent what is really going on.  Because this election is different to the ones before.  It is the first real Age of Dialogue election. 

The Age of Dialogue is the fourth great age of communication.  The previous ages – Interruption, Entertainment and Engagement – still were times when the brand owner could hope to control its image via communications.  The current age is a time when a brand’s image (or a political candidate’s) is at the mercy of a constant buzz of everyone talking about it and what it represents.  The very exciting twists and turns of the campaign are driven by the 24/7 full on culture in which we now operate. 

If Nick Clegg’s performance on the first televised TV debate was one of the key turning points, another was Brown’s muttered comment about a “bigoted woman” when he was still miked up last week.  Much as he apologised he was completely at the mercy of a huge wave of public comment and opinion.  He wasn’t fast enough to cope with it, he wasn’t authentic enough to cope with it and his advisors apparently either couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with it.

Let’s be honest, many of us thought – there but for luck go a lot of us.  Many people say asides to trusted colleagues that they would be appalled to have made public.  I have had cause to wonder myself –  when part of many an august judging panel for industry awards – how the writers of the papers would feel if they could be a fly on the wall for the discussions.  (And, in the spirit of Age of Dialogue, I repeat my suggestion that there should in fact be a webcam in the judging rooms for the Media Week awards).

In 2007 Andrew Neil (who has had a very good election according to most pundits), spoke at our inaugural Age of Dialogue conference.  He then said that none of the political parties, none of the candidates and none of the campaigns had any idea at all how to cope with the new age of full on out of control public debate.  The key change was not whether or not there was Twitter or Facebook, or email harvesting or YouTube.  The key change was how if you are in the public eye there will be thousands or even millions of conversations happening about you.  And you can’t expect to control those conversations by talking down to the public as the political classes have traditionally done.  Three years on it looks like he was not only correct then, but is still substantially correct now.  None of the parties has had that good an Age of Dialogue election so far.  It remains to be seen how the political system in this country will survive the new age.  And whether we will see a candidate arise in the future to lead our country who has the ability to enter into authentic and positive dialogue with their target audience of voters.

And dealing with the Age of Dialogue remains the greatest marketing challenge of our age as well for brands.  Not whether they should advertise online or not, or how accountable their digital spend is against traditional measures.  It is how to deal with the new age of fast and open dialogue with their consumers.

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