Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Cleggmania shows up a couple of interesting things about the political party brands.

Firstly, it shows how brittle brand reputations can be. Despite all the obvious product performance problems the major parties have experienced in the last few years (from unpopular wars to unpopular expenses claims), they - and the pollsters - didn't see this coming. The polls over the last year or two have been misleading, showing relative share without identifying how fragile (maybe even broken) the relationship between voter and party has become. Have the polls really moved so suddenly, or have people begun to engage with the question differently? Its pretty obvious - even with only a week's hindsight - that the signs were there, but they weren't understood by strategists or commentators.

Secondly, the fevered buzz on websites shows just how far the relationship between people and media has changed, with the media now playing catch-up with popular opinion rather than leading it. Preference has spread like wildfire, fuelled by Facebook, Twitter, blogs and comments. It is the peer-peer response to what has happened that is most interesting, and that is driving events. Ironically, a digital era phenomenon has been triggered by a TV event.

Of course its entirely possible that in a few days this will all have blown over and the political parties will be doing their best to forget it as a bad dream. But it raises interesting questions:

1) What's the relative importance of tracking brand preference versus identifying emerging trends and deeper motivations? Are we sure we're not driving with our eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror?

2) In a much more volatile media environment, is there any longer a role for "incremental" marketing strategies? Are we building plans that might catch fire (+10%), or still trying to "play safe" (+3%)?