UKIP’s rise from nowhere is a textbook case of the challenger brand

Whether the UK Independence Party (UKIP) turns out to be a fourth force in the political landscape remains to be seen but the impact it made on the local elections makes it worth putting under the marketing and branding microscope.

Branwell Johnson

Framed in marketing terms, just how did UKIP get onto the political map and gain such a swift foothold that one in four of those who voted cast their ballot its way?

At the simplest, the rival brands do not seem to be delivering what they promised. If a floor cleaner doesn’t do the job after a few swipes, the consumer will look for alternatives. However, the shoppers won’t be applying rigorous scientific analysis to the floor cleaner formulation to see if it will actually work (ie rigorous scrutiny of UKIP’s economic strategy for growth). They’ll just see if there is another brand that might do the job because they are disenchanted with the first.

UKIP also took up the traditional challenger brand positioning. Ryanair and easyJet first emerged as challengers to the staid flag carriers represented by British Airways and its ilk. One weapon they deployed was to criticise established airlines for profligate practices that made flying expensive – a familiar line of argument from UKIP against being in the EU.

What about its marketing budget? Coca-Cola outspent Pepsi by about 20:1 during the London Olympics 2012 but Pepsi actually increased volume and value sales over the period thanks to its Transform Your Patch promotion that tapped into grass roots community spirit; that local engagement is something UKIP is attempting to do too.

The party’s marketing budget is also benefitting from free media as it offers an exciting and different story the British press is only too happy to tell.

It seems there’s plenty going on for UKIP the brand until we arrive at the relatively recent requirement for a brand to stand for something. Many successful brands have historical origins that can be polished and presented to provide a brand truth. UKIP doesn’t have any long heritage to work with and its integrity relies on staying true to the promises and pledges it has made.

Any deviation, U-turn, exposures or compromise will damage brand credibility and reputation and the party will be as short-lived as Coca-Cola’s defunct water brand Dasani. Dasani had no history, being newly created, and its provenance as “purified tap water” was less than transparent. UKIP has to be careful not to evaporate in the same way.

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