Just published by the UK marketing society: how the PM ( and Dominic Cummings) can make the party one that people want to vote for
I am becoming one of those people who shouts at the TV screen.
(I suppose it was inevitable – it comes with age along with hair sprouting unattractively from ears and nose and busy eyebrows. I haven’t developed the full Denis Healey – but i can see the direction of travel).
My ire is aimed at the commentariat who come on Newsnight, who seem to be mostly in a state of moral outrage. Cue plenty of pomposity and posturing about what the government does from groping to proroguing parliament – and in particular Dominic Cummings.
Cummings is often presented as an evil genius. He is not – he is just an advertising strategist with an effective communications idea.
If Newsnight was to invite branding and advertising experts onto their sofas they could lay it out more analytically for the viewers. But they tend to prefer journalists who are good at understanding todays headlines (and the nerdy details of today in parliament) but poor at the techniques of developing a long term brand positioning. Besides Journalists of the BBC type tend to look down their noses at Adfolk.
This is a pity because advertising strategists are not prone to either moral outrage or bien pensant snobbery. Rather, they deal with people as they really are and work back from there. Lets try that then:-
Start with human truths
People are not much interested in the arcane details of how parliament or the law works. They are busy. In their personal lives they have to go to work and get stuff done.
All Cummings has done is to spot that this is how people feel. He ( via Boris) uses parliament as a stage to confirm that it is an odds with how most of us have to behave to get through our lives.
He has done this through classic, brutally simple, brand positioning thinking that has three characteristics 1) a positioning that is easy to remember 2) that boxes in ( or “depositions” ) the competition and 3) (important this) is rooted in a widely accepted truth
The simple positioning: The tories will deliver on the will of the people
De-positioning the competition as: A confused group of interests that can’t get anything done except frustrate progress
The truth: Three years on from the vote parliament has stopped progress.
My point here is not – is this right or wrong? Just- is it effective? It is and that is why Cummings is hated. (He is also shy-is my guess- and given to covering this up with a carapace of aggression – which does not help)
Can The Labour Party mount a counter communications strategy ?
Labour now is too introverted and bound up in its own internal battles and bureaucratic structures. It used to be good at communications strategy in the Blair/Campbell era- but both these men are now so hated The Labour Party cannot learn from them.
Corbyn and MacDonald look and sound like machine politicians of the pre Blair era. And in their attempt to fight Cummings they have fallen back on old, and distinctly retro, campaigning techniques. They have, late in the day, come up with a simple strategy. But is it any good?
The simple positioning: We are the real representatives of the people
De-positioning the competition as: “posh boys” or the rich elite or a conspiracy of the rich elite ( an idea proposed on Newsnight by Paul Mason)
But a really good communications strategy has to have the ring of truth about it to take root and have longevity. This one -apart from being a throwback to the era of smoky rooms, long sideburn and flared Trowsers- doesn’t. All political parties have posh folk. Far from hating Eton, labour front benchers like their children to go to elite fee paying schools.
As for Mason’s conspiracy of the elites: this is a desperate attempt to re-present some city folk, who are shorting the pound, as something more sinister. Conspiracy theories have a long and disreputable history and are almost always the product of a fevered imagination. This one is not going to fly.
Try “the truth well told” instead
What should Labour do? Try something truthful. Truth is the bedrock of a really good strategy. “The truth well told” is a good way to think of an effective strategy. This is what journalists often miss – as they tend to think of adfolk as people who hoodwink the public
The truth is that Brexit is a really complex and there is no “getting Brexit done” – even if the government gets an agreement through, it is just the start of years of negotiations. Without a deal – even more negotiations. We will be locked into an endless depressing cycle that will most likely lead to the breakup of the union. That is a really sad and unnecessary future.
I would start there – start calling it as it. The public will respect you for it
Scandal ! ( click/share), Shock ! (click/share), Outrage !!( click/share), Anger !**! (click/Share)
This is how Facebook grew its audience very fast and sold lots of ads over the past few years. It became, as the jargon has it, ” a publishing platform” and exercised the minimum possible control on what got posted lest it cool down all that profitable posting. I expect that Zuckerberg will still try to pull off this strategy in regions of the world where regulators & policymakers are not sharpening their pencils ( i.e. most of the world outside of USA and Europe). It is easy money.
Zuckerberg wanted all the revenue but little of the responsibility that came with being a publisher. Facebook now employs armies of people to check what goes up on its platform because, as we now know, he got into a lot of trouble for being so lax. But it won’t work: Facebook is now so huge this effort resembles the fabled king Cnut who went down to the beach and instructed the tide not to come it.
Facebook will continue to get into trouble
Facebook will continue to get into trouble, no matter how much tech’ and how many people are monitoring content. Zuckerberg will be dragged blinking into the spotlight and will look bad under scrutiny. High minded platitudes about “connectivity”, “community” and “free speech”, that play well in California, will look increasing empty.
Facebook will shift focus from social networking amongst large groups of people to private messaging between individuals and small groups ( like Messenger, which it owns, and WeChat in China) for two big reasons
- Avoiding responsibility. Facebook cannot be held responsible for what is posted, (especially if it is encrypted and they cannot see it), just as BT cannot be held responsible for people making abusive phone calls to each other or scamming.
- Generational change. My children rarely use Facebook and prefer messaging between small groups and individuals. It is the way things are going
How will Facebook make money ?
Private messaging is largely incompatible with being interrupted by ads. So, expect Facebook to evolve into a kind of all purpose utility – making money from e-commerce and financial services. Facebook will innovate and buy up companies in these areas.
Zuckerberg does not have to imagine what this will look like, as WeChat got there a few years ago – this vid, which is worth a view, explains how. Posted in 2016 it is probably already out of date
A show all marketers should see is Martin Parr’s photos at the National Portrait Gallery
If only to see the original artwork for the excellent “Oneness” idents for BBC 1, a fine example of that classic thing – a great creative idea executed in a fresh way.
The idea – like the best ideas – is uplifting and inspiring. “Oneness” is about the joy of getting together with like minded souls who share the same passions, and how this dissolves differences between people through shared experiences and common humanity. It is also an timely idea- a big spirited riposte to the narrow mindedness engendered by Brexit
But there is another lesson. It is difficult to create something fresh and distinctive by sitting in your London office and just doing data analytics. Martin Parr travels all round Britain looking, really looking hard, and capturing the sheer diversity and quirkiness of people.
We used to call this “insight”. A vital stimulus to ideas that I fear might not come from staring at a screen.
Don’t get me wrong. I used to work at Google and I know how rich data analytics can be. But if everyone is using the same data to “optimise their message” then all the work will start to look similar.
Parr’s work for BBC 1 is a reminder of what you have to do to be fresh and different.
Get out of the office and look really hard at people and how they live
What do all the following have in common ?
Love it or hate it (Marmite)
Probably the best lager in the world (Carlsberg)
and this famous ad for VW:
They are all highly successful examples of the pratfall effect
which is this:-
Displaying weakness increases empathy and like-ability.
Imperfection and making mistakes are the stuff of our daily lives – and so we are more likely to identify with the person or brand that says, well, I am prone to error too.
The real-life sense of contingency in the word “probably” makes Carlsberg’s line effective. If the line had been -” The best lager in the world” that would be merely boastful and unrealistic – the sort of thing that a pompous corporation might say rather than tongue in cheek line that you might hear in a bar
Perhaps some errors are too big to admit, which might explain why Tony Blair won’t do so about WMD and the Iraq war. His god complex stops him from doing so. He is never never wrong. (Nor is Jeremy Corbyn – another man with a god complex)
But it might also explain why people are not prepared to listen to Blair about Brexit – even though he is the most coherent politician on the topic I have heard so far.