Any communications professional will know that in order to achieve a successful campaign you need get the strategy right, plan it thoroughly and deliver results using a variety of innovative tactics. Ahead of the May 2015 elections, which of course included the General Election, we set ourselves two ambitious targets for our campaign. Firstly, to achieve a million additions to the register (there were half a million for the 2010 General Election); and secondly, to achieve a million registration applications submitted online. We exceeded both targets, and here’s the story of how we did it….
Our plan was to target the groups least likely to be registered to vote – homemovers, private renters, students and young people, members of the BME community and British citizens abroad. We split our audience into two groups – the ‘incidentals’ – those people who didn’t realise they needed to register to vote or just hadn’t got round to it; and the ‘disengaged’ – those people who believe voting isn’t for them.
So what did we do? Well, we launched a major TV advertising campaign to reach as many people as possible. We used a ‘loss aversion’ strategy from behavioural economics. In certain situations, people are more likely to be motivated by realising they may lose something, than the prospect of acquiring a gain. The ad was filmed with a mix of actors and members of the public captured on hidden cameras, to show people’s reaction to being stopped doing everyday activities they thought they are able to. The message at the end as someone is turned away from being able to vote was simple: You can’t vote, unless you’re registered by 20 April.
We also used video-on-demand advertising, online display advertising and online search.
Building partnerships with organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors was absolutely crucial to achieving our aims. For those people that are ‘disengaged’ reaching out to them requires deeper, longer contact and what certainly helps is if it’s being led by voices credible to that audience. With students for example, we worked closely with organisations such as the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Association of Colleges. We created a voter registration toolkit that included leaflets, posters, web banners and tips for union staff on how to encourage students to register and practical activities for students to set up and carry out on their college campuses. We also launched our #RegAFriend digital campaign that prompted young people who had registered to vote, to encourage their non-registered friends to do the same and share messages via social media to spread the word. A tweet by Paloma Faith encouraging her followers to #RegAFriend was certainly an added bonus!
Of course a lot of partners took it upon themselves to go out there and get people to register to vote too. Who can forget the striking images that Operation Black Vote used, featuring a host of celebrities encouraging the BME community to register to vote? Electoral Registration Officers on the ground ran innovative registration campaigns too. Our report highlights the work of Plymouth City Council who developed a targeted campaign in their four most under-registered wards.
Delivering results using innovative tactics
National Voter Registration Day (#NVRD) on 5 February was when voter registration came alive. A whole cross-section of organisations and politicians came together to spread the message. We partnered with Facebook so that users would get a voter registration reminder on the day. Everyone’s combined efforts led to a whopping 166,000 online applications on the day. We all thought we’d never see more applications made in a day like that again, but higher figures were still to come…. 469,000 people submitted an application online on the registration deadline day.
We partnered with Twitter so that everyone got a voter registration reminder on 13 April – a week before the deadline and we worked with Channel 4 to produce and broadcast an advert that featured some of the young cast members of hit show Gogglebox.
We also encouraged the BBC and ITV who were hosting leaders’ debates to plug a register to vote reminder and give the website details on air. When the BBC aired their debate users on the website were averaging 2,000 per minute before increasing to almost 25,000 after David Dimbleby gave information on how to register. Such was the response to these messages, we’ve actually recommend in our review of May’s elections that any broadcaster hosting future leader’s debates or political programmes in the run-up to an election or referendum should include a voter registration reminder.
Our campaign contributed to 1.5 million additions to the registers. More than 2.3 million people applied to register online in Great Britain during our campaign period. Both of our original targets were well exceeded. Our campaign recognition was 81% across the UK, significantly higher than previous campaigns with similar amounts spent on media.
Lessons and recommendations
We’ve never published a report like this before about our campaigns and doing so is part of being a transparent organisation. But we’ve also done it in because we hope that in doing so, others can take lessons from it for their own registration campaigns.
And what have we learnt from this campaign. Undoubtedly, working with partners really helped reach our target audiences. Our infographics and resource packs were well received and we’ll certainly build on these ahead of future elections.
Taking advantage of opportunities as they come your way. Working with Channel 4 on the Gogglebox ad was at the time exhilarating. Normally, an ad like that would take months in the planning but we had just a few weeks to get it all done and dusted and on air.
People care about democracy. We saw this in the leaders’ debates, on social media and at roadshows held up and down the country. The ability to register to vote online has made it easier than ever before to apply to register. If we all work together, we can get as many people as possible registered to vote in the years to come.
You can read our report in full here.
Director of Communication