Party Political Broadcasts are a quirk of British politics, the product of sensible and electoral regulation which stops parties from blowing their cash on TV advertising. So, unlike in the US and a lot of other countries, where millions of pounds of campaign money is spent on commercials, in the UK our parties are given specific TV slots to dilute their entire, rambling world views into 5 make-or-break minutes.
The problem is that in five minutes you have to do more than just throw around some slogans over a freeze-frame of Ed Miliband looking like he's trying to pick his nose without using his hands. Five minutes is basically a small TV programme, and if there is one consistent truth in this universe it’s that politicians don’t have a clue when it comes to making engaging TV.
Just picture the scene, as they rope in a director to be aggressively brainstormed upon at HQ - junior policy writers screaming blandly about how the video must have a mention of their “renegotiation of the fish quota”; spin doctors desperately gesturing at small whiteboards where they’ve written the word “EDGY” in black Sharpie; the managing coordinator slowly massaging the would-be director’s shoulders from behind, whispering “This is your big chance buddy, don’t fuck this up. We don’t mess around here at Plaid Cymru.”
The result of all this has been some utterly mundane broadcasts. UKIP’s featured a lot of Nigel Farage staring menacingly at the White Cliffs of Dover, as if to imply he'd give them a good kicking if they didn't stop letting people in. The SNP’s was just some lovely views of Scotland. And Labour’s was Martin Freeman doing a straight-to-camera job that felt more like a charity appeal. And the rest fell somewhere between all three. But then the Greens came out with something different.
As you may have seen, they decided to satirise the idea of a party political broadcast by creating a spoof boy band music video (watch below), which consisted of men who (very) vaguely resemble England’s party leaders having a good old cheesy singsong. Do you get the gag? All these blokes are essentially part of the same group, ergo, you can’t trust anyone, ergo, Epic Political Banter, ergo, vote Green.
Anyway, despite brimming with the type of cringeworthy humour you’d expect to find in Jon Culshaw’s Gmail drafts, the fact there was any humour at all made the Green Party broadcast stand out like Bill Hicks in a room full of Tim Henman’s, and it’s already racked up more than a million views across YouTube and Facebook, making it the most popular broadcast of the lot. Probably, ever.
So, I decided to call up the director and mastermind of it all, Johnny Hopkins, to determine the thought process that went behind this viral humour juggernaut, and the risks of not being taken seriously as a result.
Noisey: Hey Johnny! In the kindest possible way, your Green Party broadcast suggests to me you don’t usually make political broadcasts. What made you want to work with a party?
Johnny: I did it for free! My producer did it for free, our company did it for free, and a lot of people worked on it for free. That’s not because we're necessarily die hard Greens, but we just really believed in the project, and we thought it was an amazing opportunity to do a truly creative piece of work that would get seen by a lot of people. Refreshingly, we got a lot of creative freedom, and I think it paid off.
How did you even originally get involved with them?
I've been a director for about 8 or 9 years. I think the reason I was asked to pitch for the job was because I did quite a successful ad for Yeo Valley, which featured a farmer boy band group. The pitch I gave worked and I won the job.
So, Yeo Valley yoghurt was your golden ticket. Nice. The entire Green Party broadcast satirises the boy band video aesthetic. Have you made genuine pop videos before?
Not for boy bands, but I have directed professional music videos for Passenger and Big Bass, who were this big rave band during the 80s or early 90s.
Fuck me, if only you’d made a Green Party rave video. It would probably be going platinum right now. Did you look to any specific boy bands for inspiration on this?
We studied elements of East 17, Westlife, and Take That. There’s a visual language to boy band videos, so that in itself is a joke because people recognise these tropes. Although, when it comes to the opening scene, where we have ‘Cameron’ at the piano and the dry ice, that’s actually more like Elton John or Liberace than Take That.
You’ve created something fairly unprecedented here, opting for humour over gravitas with a political broadcast. Why?
One of the reasons I was attracted to the project was the idea that the Greens were up for doing something genuinely different. They wanted to really push the comedy, and that appealed to me.
We’re all a bit bored of these serious politicians talking down their noses at us. We're not even paying attention to what they're spouting half the time. Whether you like the film or not, whether you're Green or from another party, I think the message that comes across really strongly is that they [the Green Party] do stand for an alternative view. And if you can say that by delivering something new to look at, people don't get bored.
Plenty of people found it funny. It’s the highest hit broadcast out of all the parties. But don’t you think have such a big comedy angle just plays on the idea that the Greens can’t be taken seriously?
I guess you're always going to have that. But you can argue that what the Green Party has done is far, far braver than anything that all the other parties have done. The rest have gone down the safe route.
They don't have anything to lose really. They are making slow but steady strides. It will be interesting to see what happens at the next elections, to see if the other parties turn around and go: “Shit, we want to do something like the Greens did last time. Because what they did put them on the map and made them appeal to a mass audience. It was fun, and it engaged people, and people talked about them much more so than other people's party political broadcast.”
We all dream.
True. But it was a really interesting angle, and I wonder what it will do to politics going forward, in terms of how they engage their audiences.
So you think humour is a way forward for politicians to engage the disenchanted generation?
I think there is real room there for more entertainment; I think politics can be a lot more fun, and engaging. I feel like this video is an example of how that can happen. I hate negative politics, and negative campaigning, where you get politicians just slagging eachother off. Yes, this video is also a kind of negative campaigning, but at least it’s got a sense of humour. I think people have appreciated and responded to that.
From YouTube views alone, it seems you might have a point. Cheers Johnny.
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