The new Meryl Streep movie The Iron Lady will be a treat for history and politics buffs, but the trailer for the film also hints at a famous chapter in the history of advertising: How Margaret Thatcher radically changed her original image — fussy, frumpy, with a high-pitched voice and crooked teeth — into that of the Conservative Party leader who continues to inspire as much praise as she does bile.
The architects of the change were the executives of Saatchi & Saatchi, then a relatively unknown London shop and now a global brand in the Publicis Groupe family of ad agencies. Saatchi — along with Thatcher adviser Gordon Reece — performed a makeover the like of which had not previously been seen in British politics, with her hair, clothes, voice and personality all undergoing dramatic change.
Thatcher was education secretary between 1970 and 1974, and made herself almost universally unpopular by cutting free milk for schoolchildren. Her nickname was “Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher.’ Here’s how she looked and sounded 36 years ago, before her rise to the top of the Tory party (check out that ridiculous hat!):
Now compare that to the way she appeared on the day of her historic election in 1979, after receiving voice-coaching lessons from actor Laurence Olivier:
Her victory came in large part due to Saatchi’s election campaign, which produced this famous ad scolding the sitting Labour Party government for its record on unemployment. It remains one of the most famous ads ever run in Britain.
Saatchi made Thatcher and Thatcher made Saatchi: The makeover and the campaign put Thatcher in power from 1979 to 1990, and the Conservatives retained No. 10 Downing Street until 1997 — a remarkable 18-year run of power.
Saatchi, in turn, was catapulted into the international spotlight, where it remains.
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