Why are political parties so useless at marketing?

by Charlie_East_West on February 11, 2015


Labour have unveiled their latest attempt to woo female voters – A pink bus on a “kitchen table” tour. Seriously. They did this. Good intentions destroyed by patronising stupidity. Labour appear to have opened a 1950’s Mad Men manual on how to get ahead in advertising and sell stuff to women by using outdated gender stereotyping.

It is not just Labour who produce dumb and dumber marketing. Just look at the relatively recent case studies:-

– The ‘Better Together’ campaign cobbled together a lazy advert that showed an insipid woman sitting by her kitchen table unable to comprehend the choices on offer in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

– William Hague and his baseball cap.

– Tony Blair & Gordon Brown eating ice cream together.

– Politicans who claim to listen to the latest zeitgeist rock band. Gordon Brown and The Arctic Monkeys and David Cameron and The Killers et al. Don’t they fucking well realise that this makes them look like a trendy vicar rather than a heavyweight politician?

David Cameron and the huskies.

– The Tories and the “Road to Recovery” picture.

– The continuation of the god-awful Liberal Democrats bird logo.

– Endless speeches from our political leaders with staged managed ethnic and gender diverse audiences standing directly behind them.

– Politicians still talking in soundbites of rhetorical groups of three. No human being speaks like that. Ever.

– The UKIP £ logo.

Our political parties appear to be stuck in a vortex of old school branding and doomed marketing techniques. Who the hell is advising them? Even Don Draper wouldn’t put up with this sort of creative shit. The approach doesn’t work. The only awareness they are obtaining is a heightened awareness on how fucking weird they all look and sound.

As well as bad branding, image and identity, our parties also persist with bad marketing delivery techniques:-

The Liberal Democrats continued obsession with leafleting. When are they going to realise that direct mail is a marketing hinderance rather than a vote winner. It is nothing more than junk mail. The Liberal Democrats might as well change their strapline to paraphrase the old David Steel quote, “go back to your constituencies and prepare the riso.”

Canvassing. Basically, canvassing is unsolicited door to door selling. This is usually done in evenings or weekends. It invades the privacy and the time of the voter. We are living in 2015, not 1955. The multi platform use of media today means that canvassing is about as relevant and worthwhile as using a unicycle on the Tour de France.

Politicians and activists still persist with this antiquated form of marketing, because they have a desparate and insecure need to see the whites of the eyes of the voter. They have a need to be seen to be doing something to “engage” with the voter. But, this approach is tragically old school. When is the penny finally going to drop? What worked before, doesn’t neccesarily mean it still works today. Some self critical marketing thinking is urgently needed within our political parties.

All three of our main political parties are utterly useless at marketing in this day and age. They all need to rebrand towards some basic forms of brand normalisation:-

1. Speak like normal human beings. Just look how successful this approach has been for the SNP and Syriza.
2. Use social media effectively and often.
3. Reduce the amount of leafleting and canvassing.
4. Increase the amount of town and village hall debates. This proved to be a hugely successful component of the Yes campaign in Scotland.
5. Change their logos.
6. Stop roaming around street with bloody great big placards.
7. Reduce the number of visits to construction sites in day-glo high-vis jackets and hard hats.
8. Improve the design and interactive quality of their websites.
9. Stop parading spouses as conference stage show ponies.
10. Reduce the tribalism. Vote and speak our in accordance to core principles and beliefs, rather than becoming a subservient to three line whip party policy dictats.

Will our parties change? No chance. Our main political parties are too obsessed with each other, and how to outflank each other, that they end up outflanking themselves with terrible marketing. The electorate can see right through this and yet, our political parties cannot see this and persist with a God awful approach.

We are left with 1950’s marketing and messaging from our politicians.
Analogue political marketing in a digital age.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jackie_South February 11, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Some fair points. Two quibbles:

Canvassing: canvassing is partly about having a face-to-face conversation, partly about identifying who is likely to vote for your party so that it can then run an effective get-out-the-vote operation for the election – vital in a close contest.

I’m not sure that there is a more effective way of doing either than canvassing. It may be unsolicited, but sometimes that is important too so that voters know that parties are making an effort to talk to them, to listen and to win people round: I have certainly spoken to previously fairly unengaged people who initially told me that they would vote UKIP. When I first listened to their concerns and then told them what Labour would do, I have won them round.

Leaflets: yes, the volumes in some campaigns can be stupid and have diminishing returns, but for those not digitally connected they are still the main way for voters to read what parties are offering. The internet may be able to do that better, but only if you use it. Everyone has a letterbox.


George_East February 11, 2015 at 4:52 pm

…and a bin. I’m supposed to be one of the better informed and engaged of the electorate and I don’t think I have ever read a political leaflet put through my door. Pizza and indian takeaway menus get more attention.

Having said that I understand the canvassing point. One to one contact is important if it can be achieved. Though I’d probably turn the lights off and hide behind the sofa rather than open my door to local political activists.


Green Christian February 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm

I agree with you Jackie. Leafleting (assuming the leaflet is good quality) and canvassing are the only effective ways to reach voters in target areas. They’ve been the Green Party’s only methods in council wards where we’ve managed to get over 60% of the vote.

Social media, for the most part, reaches people who already agree with us, and is impossible to target geographically (as we are forced to do to win under FPTP). To compare the two, my local party had a petition to put a pedestrian crossing at a busy (and dangerous) crossroads. The online version got around 20 signatures, going door-to-door got us over 200.


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