Richard Exon: In marketing terms, modern politics is a category in decline

By Richard Exon, the chief executive of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 20 May 2011 12:00AM

It's been a disorientating year or so for anybody simultaneously interested in marketing and politics. Things in Scotland may be hotting up since the SNP's dramatic victory earlier this month.

Richard Exon: In marketing terms, modern politics is a category in decline

Elsewhere, though, despite a fragile economy, a once-in-a-lifetime referendum and a fresh generation of leaders, public interest in politics has rarely been lower. In fact, if voter turnout - a mere 35.4 per cent in London - and party membership levels are seen as indicators of category health, a marketer would call politics a category in decline.

Despite the promise of a fresh start that each General Election offers, three factors have resulted in politics losing traction with its core audience.

First, the leaders - David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband - have each struggled to articulate a vision that defines the category in their favour. Thatcher did it when she made the Conservatives stand for the future and Labour for the past. Blair did it when he simply flipped that characterisation. Obama did it when he offered a singular vision of "Yes we can" hope.

Maybe it's harder to create and sustain this kind of momentum in today's environment, but the result is that, in UK politics today, the category-leading brands are weaker than ever before. The necessary pragmatism of coalition government and, let's put this nicely, the "soft launch" of Miliband's Labour leadership means that none of the leaders have taken a bold, category-defining position yet.

Second, just when all parties could have used the AV referendum to inspire, provoke and mobilise voters, both the "yes" and the "no" camps fought poor campaigns. It's as if all concerned wanted to further disenfranchise voters and ensure a low turnout. Utterly perplexing.

Finally, there's the draining lack of innovation in the how and where of political communication. Digital deniers used to characterise the web as a hinterland of fringe opinion and unread blogs. This view is now untenable, of course, especially given the exponential growth and jaw-dropping success of social media platforms, both driven by and driving new consumer behaviours. Brands and their agencies have been quick to take the opportunities that this affords but, when it comes to UK politics, it feels that the web is being underexploited. Where there could be idea-driven political social media that engages, rewards and creates mass participation, there's little of substance.

Now, of course, it may be that all politicians since New Labour's fall are wary of looking too professional when it comes to communications, lest they be accused of "spin". But unless they get some coherence and innovation into their campaigning, politicians won't halt the decline of their category.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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