Monday, 23 January 2012

Party time


Despite the existence of many political parties in the UK, why is our political landscape shaped mainly by two? And why will the Lib Dems probably never gain any real traction?

The answer is that, like many things in life, political voting is decided on by the vast majority of people by instinct not fact. This instinct looks for ways to protect and preserve the individual whilst sub consciously seeking security in belonging to a tribe.

Tribes find it as easy to define themselves by what they are not as by what they are, and they want this to be as simple an equation as possible. Over-extend the number of tribes that are "not like us" and the thing gets too complicated. The sub conscious likes certainty, likes binary, likes yes or no. Likes United or City, Arsenal or Tottenham. The sub conscious forces you to find a single enemy: God the Devil, and this is the optimal position for a tribe to have so that it can focus and easily manage its attack and defence strategies.Like any other form of prejudice it is largely automatic and irrational, and is characteristic of most democratic systems around the world.

Add to this the continued robust health of the British class system and this country neatly splits along tribal lines: the Haves, who gather in rural areas and affluent parts of cities, and the Have Nots who gather in the spaces in between. Those who cannot escape the Have Not world will continue to vote Labour for now: those who can migrate upwards may stay with their roots, or may alternatively seek inauguration into the tribe that reflects their new status. Some of these may be tempted to vote Lib Dem. Equally, some of the Haves may see the Liberals as a more moral or intellectually interesting option.

The vast majority of both Labour and Conservative voters are essentially opting for a strong tribal preference in the first instance, based on emotion, which is only post-rationalised by active thought further down the line.

Occasionally, as in Scotland a new force arises, but for it to successfully challenge the existing instinctive positions of the established tribes it needs to trump their version of "the meaning of life" with something simple and visceral, otherwise it stands no chance.Alex Salmond is not William Wallace, but he has made an excellent show of uniting the country behind "Freedom!". Note, this is an emotionally led appeal with a simple, clear swipe not at another party , but at another country, with enmities that extend far further back in time and scores that need to be settled with the auld enemy.

The point of Scotland is that the trump card is so powerful because it is so instinctual, not because it is logical. This leads to the issue with the Lib Dems and why they will struggle for votes.It is this: the Lib Dems are based primarily on intellectual rather than instinctive argument: they do not possess a simple strong appeal to the sub conscious. Indeed, rather the reverse, as it would not be too generous to describe them as "the thinking person's party". Further, they are stranded in the middle; even at a time when everything is converging to the middle ground, this is not a good place to be.

Thoughts for parties and their marketing. See also

All parties: don't put too much value on the logic of policy: find simple, visceral and emotional messages first.

Labour: watch out. Tribal adherence to the "working class" may have only half a generation of strength left in it, and is hugely at odds with the modernisers in the party. 20 years ago people were proud to be working class - all the focus groups that I have attended over the last 10 years show that this veneer is wearing increasingly thin - whilst working class solidarity might once have been nurtured strongly when UK manufactured things,that same solidarity is not engendered via the call centre or shelf stacking. Consider name change once and for all: Democracy is the word to own.Miliband is not the firebrand to make it work: drop him. Invest enormously in social media as the Tories still struggle on with fax machines.

Lib Dems: decide on who your enemy is -  Labour or Tory - and forget the other one. Find a message that is essentially emotional: back fill it with as much intellectual as you like if the decide the enemy is Tory, and with as little as possible if it is Labour, as you will need to sit comfortably in the Daily Mirror.The alternative is to stay permanently in opposition, coalition  or local government, a useful but scarcely ambitious strategy.

Conservatives: focus on pushing the Great into Britain.This is the natural heart of the Tory and is an appeal that  resonates deep down in the psyche.Ensure that Great Britain is based emotionally on success as the central core.Own the territory of hard but fair  play and forget other distractions. Ensure that every ounce of Olympic publicity*,every medal and every Jubilee cup has the word Tory stamped on it. Success is sexy, use it.Get digital and spearhead a strategy to recruit the 9 million (older) people not currently on line. Then call an election as soon as is practical.

* Update 16 08 12 ....and here it is:

Politics and the sub conscious

Hello I will be writing on advertising and branding issues, and the psychological drivers that encourage preference of brand A over brand B, so here's a start : Ed Miliband.

Yes, exactly the same factors are in play when choosing a leader as when choosing anything else in life, and most of it is driven by sub conscious instinct not reason.

The mistake the Labour party made in appointing Miliband was to over-intellectualise his strengths when they should have asked  themselves one simple recruitment question : "Does this man have the charisma to lead?"

In the millisecond it takes for the average human  to react to his physical characteristics and presence, and  in the absence of potentially redeeming features such as conspicuous past political bravery, brilliant wit or history of radical successes, the battle is all but over. Add to this the impression that he was the grass roots' second choice over his more charismatic brother, and the urgent need to eradicate the greyness of Brown with the glitter of someone shiny and new - indeed someone who might even be a valid successor to Blair- and the rout is complete.

The charisma thing is largely physical and increasingly de rigeur in modern politics - Miliband comes across literally as a lightweight, looking perhaps like a junior maths teacher - but the leadership signals that candidates give off are equally critical, and can overcome physical shortcomings.

What is leadership? Put simply, leadership is about suggesting to a group that you have a better fix on one simple thing than any one else: and the name of that one thing?... The Future. The future is the big unconscious fear that won't go away. It is the territory that kings and chiefs and popes and generals and successful business people have used for centuries to persuade people to follow them: "I know what will happen tomorrow, so trust me." The conviction with which they carry off this clairvoyance is the decisive factor. Cameron's vision is unclear and bitty,but he fills the vacuum with an easy-going charisma and occasional acts of populist bravado (eg Europe).

Thoughts for marketers:

Plan: Ed Miliband was rushed to market.His win was probably a surprise to him as well as his team, and because his background PR was so ill-prepared he has been on the back foot since. The supportive emotional groundwork behind his claim to be adopted and loved by the grass roots was not carried out.

Package: However, even in the time available, his physical presence should have been beefed up: Susan Boyle proves everything is possible.

Understand the continuum and his place in it: Whilst his past credentials were undramatic, Miliband's fix on "the future" is equally weak. Without a strong, tribally emotional message to follow him into the promised land - together with some immediate evidence of progress or some overt act of bravery - his message, such as it is, will fail. Like any brand , he needed to position himself strongly in the continuum of the market (past, present and future) to answer the question: Why me? Why now?

Employ "Match and Move": Miliband does not connect because the signals he gives out do not match the picture of what the party (or the electorate as a whole) have in their hearts as a Labour leader. Because there is no match there is no possibility of a move. See

Cut, run and regroup: I worked with a major brand of shampoo once that failed in the UK after about 2 months following a negative PR campaign against it: it was a terminal case and should have been withdrawn at the time, but it continued to be promoted for some 7 years at very large cost until it eventually died a death. Labour will  compound their error if they keep faith with Miliband, they should act decisively now, before it is too late.

Change the team: The Labour party grandees that presided over the election, together with the PR advisors behind EM should look to themselves.They gifted the Tories.