"Put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem."
In 2016, this was the jibe from David Cameron to Jeremy Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Questions. The Tory benches guffawed and Dave soaked up the accolades. Dave had him by the collar.
After the comment, Corbyn cleaned up his act a little, getting his image right every now and again, but still he wore beige. And you can’t take a politician seriously in beige.
Which is where Who Wot Why enters the story. It was our early days and we were working on the Labour Party with Corbyn's son, Tommy. Tommy is a smart and creative guy and we had some productive working sessions with him. We talked about how we might use Stormzy in the quest to get young people to vote. After one session, I had a chat with Tommy about his dad’s image.
At the time, Corbyn was dubbed the Worzel Gummidge of politics. He played into every Daily Mail writer’s fingertips. The geography teacher in an elbow-patched blazer and anorak or the socialist worker in a donkey jacket and revolutionary cap, it doesn’t hang well on a 21st-century leader.
A brand has to be consistent – certainly in tone of voice but also in design. And it has to fit with what the brand does and how it is perceived. This is true of people too. Steve Jobs’ polo neck and sneakers, Margaret Thatcher’s handbag and helmet hair, our own Matt Gooden’s trucker cap and Rolling Stones T-shirt. All of them look consistent and battle-ready.
One late night, I asked Tommy a question: "What does Corbyn want?" I answered for him: "To be prime minister." He agreed. "Then why doesn’t he dress like a prime minister?"
I glanced at Matt and Ben. "We’re creatives in advertising and we look like shit – that’s fine. But Corbyn is a leader of the opposition. He needs to look like a serious politician. He shouldn’t dress in Savile Row or Armani like Cameron and Blair, but he should wear Marks & Spencer. It’s inexpensive and it’s of the people." Corbyn needed a consistent brand look and I said it: "Blue suit, white shirt, red tie. That’s him." Tommy nodded.
Since then in parliament, to my knowledge, Corbyn has worn a blue suit, a white shirt and a red tie. And I know from a friend who has photographed him that he only wears Marks & Spencer. Corbyn’s brand image is set and it works. He can’t be criticised for his attire again.
Sometimes in advertising, we have to rebrand a brand, and Corbyn dressing in a "proper suit" and tie is one of those occasions. Getting him to sing the national anthem, however, is another thing entirely.
Sean Thompson is founder and executive creative director at Who Wot Why