Can Saatchi's Roberts Avoid Debacle in Campaign for U.K. Prime Minister?

Last Updated Nov 18, 2009 4:05 PM EST

Saatchi & Saatchi is running British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's re-election campaign, according to Sky News. It's a tough campaign to win, as the ruling Labour Party trails the opposition Conservatives 42 to 29 percent in the polls.

If Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts' history in government and politics is any guide, there may be a debacle on the horizon.

Roberts is no doubt licking his lips at the challenge. It was agency founder Charles Saatchi who masterminded the election of the Conservatives' Margaret Thatcher in 1979 with the campaign "Labour Isn't Working." If Roberts could rescue Brown it would be a formidable coup indeed. "Just wait and see when the rubber hits the road," he says.

The rubber already hit the road in New Zealand in the late 1990s, where Roberts' involvement with former prime minister Jenny Shipley led to calls for Shipley's resignation. The right-wing National Party leader had dinner with Roberts right after Saatchi won the country's $16 million tourism ad account. After that, the account ballooned to $26 million at a time when other government spending was being cut. (Shipley and Roberts were longtime friends.) The media dubbed the incident "Saatchigate," and one headline called it a "Slippery Slope of Sleeze."

Roberts struck again in the U.S. in 2005, when Roberts apparently successfully persuaded the Department of Defence to "rebrand" the War on Terror. Roberts' suggested name? "The Fight for a Better World." The Bush Administration was ridiculed in the media when it went through a brief attempt to call the War on Terror "the global struggle against violent extremism." (Download Roberts' speech on the War on Terror here.)

Col. James Treadwell of the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element was later quoted by the Washington Post saying something that sounded alarmingly similar to Roberts' "Lovemarks" notion: "If you want to influence someone, you have to touch their emotions."

The Brits are expected to vote in spring of 2010.