Politicians sell an unwanted brand

As noted in Marketing Week (Politics isn’t working. Can marketing fix it? MW April 21), the UK election campaign has, to date, been a particularly unmemorable one. There is a sense of it being a foregone conclusion, widespread cynicism and a general lack of trust abound.

Since the early Eighties, when political parties began to get to grips with modern marketing techniques, our society has gone through a period of economisation. Political views have now converged and political parties, now far more marketing oriented, face similar challenges to the consumer brand manager. How do you present a strongly branded identity and differentiate yourself when the market is awash with similar products offering much of the same?

There appear to be very few good marketers operating in the political realm. What really strikes me about this election is that the Conservatives have once again, unbelievably, failed to grasp that electing the right leader is paramount to winning an election. Michael Howard (highly qualified though he may be) as the representative, the face of the Conservative brand, simply doesn’t work – he just isn’t marketable. Sadly, most of the senior Conservatives, perhaps with the exception of David Davies, aren’t.

But then M&C Saatchi isn’t

responsible for electing the Tory leader and nor should it be (although the Conservatives might soon be wishing otherwise).

The rise of New Labour was and is the only example of really effective political marketing. The rebranding of the Labour Party (Old Labour to New Labour) was quite simply one of the most effective pieces of rebranding of the past 20 years. How clearly Labour “strategists” understand that what people really want is plastic Tony rather than Brown, a real politician with substance and convictions but thin on style and mass appeal.

The truth is that real politics matter only to politicians, pundits and a handful of voters. What matters in the real world is having a charismatic, engaging performer heading a political party, a handful of popular, understandable policies, the ability to spin, fudge and dodge (and skilfully, if not transparently demonstrated by the majority of politicians) the money to market their “brand” and the avoidance of nasty skeletons – though I fear increasingly, there is a tendency to simply deny everything until skeletons just give up and slink back into their cupboards.

Can marketing fix it? Yes, but only when political marketers (and indeed those responsible for electing party leaders) realise, as relatively few have, that to sell a brand you need a product that people want to buy, a brand personality that engages voters and a package that is attractive, appealing and relevant.

Don Williams

Chief executive

PI Global

London W11

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