Published on 7 Jan 2013 Sections

The Ronseal coalition and a question of trust

A seal of trust or a sticky promise? Channel 4 News speaks to one of the creators of the Ronseal slogan “It does exactly what it says on the tin”, used by David Cameron to describe the coalition.

David Cameron as he might look in the famous Ronseal advert.

David Cameron as he might look in the famous Ronseal advert.

Straight down the line? Cleverness in not being clever? So says Liz Whiston, describing the famous Ronseal slogan “It does exactly what it says on the tin” which she coined for the wood stain manufacturer 19 years ago.

She told Channel 4 News she’s “proud” that David Cameron used the catchphrase earlier to describe the coalition although “it has been slightly twisted”.

The prime minister said his partnership with Nick Clegg was not, as it has often been portrayed, a marriage, but a “Ronseal deal”.

“What we said two-and-a-half years ago was that we would come together for a five-year parliament,” he explained.

“So it’s not a marriage, it is, if you like, a Ronseal deal – it does what it says on the tin.

“We said we would come together, we said we’d form a government, tackle these big problems.

“We said we’d get on with it in a mature and sensible way – and that is exactly what we’ve done.

“We’ve chosen to continue – just as we said – with a five-year governent to tackle these deep-seated problems.”

Nick Clegg quipped: “The Ronseal deal… you could call it the unvarnished truth.”

Cleverness in not being clever

Liz Whiston, an advertising copy writer, was working with partner Dave Shelton for the now-defunct agency HHCL when the pair were asked to come up with the wording for the commerial (see video below).

She told Channel 4 News: “There were an awful lot of new products coming out onto the market – and people were, quite frankly, mystified.

“People were choosing other products because they had pretty tins.

“We said the best way to advertise yourself is to stick to who you are and just say it – really straight.

“We thought it was great because it’s so unlike other lines, because so many others were going for puns.

“But funnily enough other people in the agency were asking ‘what do you mean?’

That would be good wouldn’t it, politicians who said something and then did it? Liz Whiston

“They couldn’t see the cleverness in not being clever.”

“I think what we intended was to be really straight down the line – and obviously it has been slightly twisted.

“But I’m proud it was used… and that would be good wouldn’t it? Politicians who said something – and then did it?”

So what kind of slogan does the coalition need today?

“What we need is someone that’s a bit more like a ‘fifth emergency service’ – another line we came up with,” said Whiston.

” We need someone who’s going to power ahead and make Britain work. A little bit more energy please.”

Any political party needs trust

Brand consultant James von Leyden said Ronseal’s was a “no-nonsense slogan about a no-nonsense product”.

“It wasn’t clever – it wasn’t using a pun, it wasn’t inventing a new word. An everyday expression, almost,” he told Channel 4 News.

So could it be a risk applying a “no-nonsense” slogan to the overspun world of politics?

“It’s an ideal phrase,” says von Leyden.

Hijacking the Ronseal slogan is a quick way of saying you are honest. James von Leyden

“Politics is the art of spin and this is a statement of ‘what you see is what you get’.

“Politicians know it’s really important to be trusted. Hijacking the Ronseal slogan is a quick way of saying you are honest.”

But he added: “The trouble with slogans is they’re hostages to fortune – “we’re all in this together” was later undermined by revelations that the very rich were actually insulated.

“That may well happen with ‘it does what it says on the tin’.”