Branding politics 101
|Kapil is an advertising strategist based in KL, who likes nothing better than to figure out why people behave the way they do. Naturally this forces him to spend most of his time lounging in coffeeshops and bars. He can be reached at [email protected]|
JUNE 7 — As brands and branding become more central to the process of wealth creation by corporations, political leaders, parties and coalitions around the world are using the same techniques to gain preference for them in a crowded marketplace.
The reason why branding is gaining so much interest in the political sphere is because a lot of the problems and solutions are similar in nature to those faced by products and services. How do you create preference for yourself in an overcrowded, cluttered environment with disparate voices clamouring for the attention of a busy, jaded and largely uninterested consumer?
At a simple level, brands are our first response when the name of the brand is mentioned. What is the first thing you think of when I say Nike, PKR, Maxis or Najib? Your response is what all brand managers around the world are trying to influence.
Unlike a product or a service, a brand exists entirely in the minds of its audience. Brands go up and down in popularity depending on the response they evoke at that moment in time in the minds of their audience. Getting the desired response consistently is the key to success. The challenge is to make your brand a desired part of the self-image of your audience.
People express who they are through the brands they patronise. When we see a person wearing Levi’s and Adidas, sporting a Swatch and driving a Prius, we have a completely different sense of their personality than that of a person wearing Dockers and Hush Puppies, sporting a Panerai and driving a BMW.
Our preference for political leaders, parties and coalitions is no different. We choose the ones who we see as being most in sync with our beliefs and lifestyles. This belief is generally a mix of the rational (their promises, their policies, their performance) and the emotional (their speaking styles, their body language, their clothes, their husbands). Most importantly there should be a single broad message supported by their beliefs, appearance and actions.
The difference between corporate and political branding really lies in the degree of control that brand managers can exercise. The attempt by corporations is to say the same thing about themselves all the time. From the advertising to the ticketing process, to the walking in the airport to paying extra for every service, we realise that AirAsia is really all about getting everyone to fly, but by stripping out every free service possible. To exercise this degree of control in politics though is very hard.
For every 1 Malaysia, if there is a cow’s head protest, for every proclamation of Malaysia as a leader in moderate Islam there is a book being banned, which is the real government? Complicating the issue further is the fact that in Malaysia there are three kinds of political brands. Leaders like the prime minister and Anwar Ibrahim, party brands like Umno and the DAP. And coalition brands like BN and PR.
To influence a voter’s mind in their favour, all three must be seen to be saying and supporting the same broad message that is relevant and attractive consistently over time. In the case of BN, the difference in popularity of the PM and that of his party and coalition is glaring proof of the contradiction between the messages sent out by him and his party and coalition.
He personally may be perceived as an approachable, moderate reformist but his party and increasingly his coalition may be perceived as opportunistic, hardline, arrogant and obsessed with race. In a parliamentary democracy, that could prove to be fatal as voting behaviour is a result of the perceived allure of both the party and the individual.
On the other hand, the opposition has strong party brands but weak personal and coalition brands. Anwar Ibrahim has not been able to articulate an unambiguous personality for himself that allows voters to see exactly who they are buying.
Similarly, PR as a brand suffers paradoxically from the strength of its individual party brands. PAS, the DAP and PKR have clearly delineated ideologies that define their appeal. But the distance between their respective ideological positions makes some voters distrust their ability to perform as a cohesive unit when in power. Voters may vote for PAS because they buy its ideology, but the idea that their vote may simultaneously benefit the DAP may not be so appealing.
As Malaysian democracy matures, political entities will increasingly need to refine their ideologies and performance to eliminate glaring contradictions that weaken their brands in order to get loyalty from the prospective voter.
When there is no contradiction to being a BN, MCA and Muhiyuddin kind of girl or a PR, PAS and Guan Eng kind of guy, branding in politics would have arrived.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.