Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Coley Porter Bell: Misuse of marketing behind political apathy

Are you psyched about May 6th? You know, The General Election. Are you really looking forward to it? Are you enthusiastically engaged with the thinking, the campaigning, the issues, the people, the ideas?

Thought not.

Sadly you are not alone in your indifference. Over the past few weeks it has become increasingly apparent that there is a near universal lack of engagement in the country with our upcoming quadrennial vote-fest.

Even antagonism would be preferable. At least that implies some interest. But instead we seem to be in the grip of the most severe outbreak of mass apathy we have seen for decades, perhaps ever. And we cant help wondering why?

Part of the answer must lie in the particular economic circumstances of the moment. Every one knows the next government is going to have to make savage spending cuts. No party wants to say what they will be, in the certain knowledge that if they do, the electorate will punish them.

So big truths cannot be spoken. And everything else that is spoken is only a side show.

Who wants to listen to that?

But the real problem is politicians’ misappropriation of the techniques of marketing. There is an old adage about how even the best marketing in the world will not sell a bad product (at least not for very long). The major parties seem to have overlooked this.

Rather than having a ‘product’ -policies that flow from their convictions, the major parties have become addicted to spin doctors, pollsters and branding gurus, to create any old policy that gives them temporary electoral advantage.

This is what lies behind the cynical pandering of ‘micro-policies’ (tightly targeted policies that are not really worthy of the name.) A prime example was Labour’s five election pledges issued yesterday. Number one on the list was ‘Protection for the post offices and pubs on which community thrives’. Is this really the most fundamental Labour belief? Or is it an insincere attempt to woo a few undecided voters in rural marginals?

Then there’s the ‘look, how normal I am’ personal revelations of key politicians. My favourite was Gordon Brown’s risible claim that he listens to the Arctic Monkeys on his iPod. That is mirrored by the recent emergence of a man called ‘Dave’ not David mark you, Cameron. Do you think they called him Dave in the Bullingdon? Probably not. These transparent strategems are never going to fool the electorate or cover up the fact that we have lack of vision, focus, and clarity from our so-called leaders.

They may be using all the tools that the branding gurus, messaging masters and PhD pollsters have to offer. It is undoubtedly a pretty powerful arsenal. But in so doing they seem to have lost the most powerful lesson that the world of brands can offer; that there is no substitute for real vision, genuine leadership (which shows a preparedness to actually take a risk and even fail), differentiation, focus, consistency and clarity. Oh, and a little charisma.
Coley Porter Bell

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