Tories’ hiring passes branding torch to a new generation

The Conservative Party’s appointment of 25-year-old advertising executive Anna-Maren Ashford as brand manager (MW last week) is the latest stage in leader David Cameron’s rebranding of the party.

The former Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R (RKCR) account manager is to consult constituency organisations about a new logo to replace the Tories’ existing torch emblem. The front-running replacement is a symbol of an oak tree.

The role suggests the party is adopting a classical marketing approach. A party spokesman says: “As it is a new role, it is going to grow. Her responsibilities could change.”

Some see the appointment itself as symbolic of change. With up to three years before the next General Election, Cameron is holding fire on big policy launches. A source says the party is getting its brand right first, following research that found people liked Conservative policies but disliked the party itself.

Under communications chief Steve Hilton, a former M&C Saatchi adman and close Cameron adviser, the party is involved in “momentum management”, according to Charles Vallance, planning chief at ad agency Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest.

From cuddling huskies in Norway to hugging hoodies in the UK, Cameron has provided the media with a steady stream of unexpected stories. Ashford’s appointment is another, Vallance believes, given that she is young and female, a world away from the crusty Tory “Bufton Tuftons”.

An academic interest

A graduate from St Hugh’s College in Oxford, Ashford joined RKCR in 2002. She is described by a former colleague as “intellectual”, but one who never expressed much interest in politics – ideal for Cameron’s current strategy, some might argue.

Vallance thinks Cameron is cleverly dodging any blows from Labour: “By acting in such a non-political fashion, he avoids the incoming fire.”

However, a Conservative spokesman denies the party is putting branding before policies: “David Cameron stated when he took over that the campaign was for change, making the party more representative, so one of the things to look at is the brand and its associations.”

Cameron’s cycling, ethical and green approach seems more contemporary than the glitzy 1980s presidential style of Tony Blair, hobnobbing with George W Bush. Cameron is also expected to exploit the shift from deference to “reference” (word-of-mouth recommendations, and Web research rather than deferring to powerful people) to run a grassroots campaign involving pavement pounding, events in small towns, blogs and chat rooms. Last week, the Conservatives unveiled a new strategy to target the local press.

Light on substance

A new logo is another way to build the brand without revealing specific policies. Out goes the Tory torch, designed by Michael Peters in the 1980s and based on the Statue of Liberty’s torch of freedom.

If the oak tree logo is chosen, it will represent tradition, environmentalism and roots. Peters accepts it is time for a change of logo, but says the oak tree is “tired”. He adds: “What the party needs is a symbol of energy and renewed faith.”

By creating Ashford’s role, Cameron is revealing a desire to focus on “customers”, whether party members or voters. But he knows the Tories will only win if there is a real public appetite for change.

David Benady

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