UK General election Brand Analysis WEEK 2: Dis-engage or Re-engage?


I wanted to leave this blog until after the manifestos were published. I haven’t had time to read them all in detail but is seems to me there is a genuine left-right difference emerging and I, for one, think that is a good thing.

As Mark Ritson pointed out in his new Marketing Week column entitled “Why democracy is poor man’s marketing” one of the major problems with politics is a recent lack of quality and differentiated thinking. (By the way what’s happening with Mark moving from Marketing to Marketing Week? Feels like Man Utd have just poached a star striker from Chelsea!)

Ritson’s response to this situation, as a free market advocate, is that we follow his suggestion to bow out of engaging in this election and even democracy itself. He justifies this based on the democratic process producing the current stodgy undifferentiated and unexciting cartel of parties.

This opting out response is wrong and dangerous. Democracy is simply too important and different to apply the same market based logic to it. Not everything should be run by free markets and that includes vital public services and our political system.

Politics is complex and much, much more important than persuading someone to buy a flight or a coffee. It requires a deeper level of engagement and effort from both communicator and receiver. Much of the trouble with politics over the past couple of decades has been the commercial marketers moving in imposing a flawed assumption that politics could, and should, be reduced to a single minded insight, benefit and reason to believe. That “we the people” could not be trusted or weren’t even capable of making an informed choice. The political elite became convinced that we were stupid, and guess what….we disengaged. Turnout in the 2001 election reaching a low of 59%.

The challenge of this coming election is whether I, you, and we, dis-engage or re-engage. This is an important election not because this MP or that MP fighting for thier seat tells us so. This is important because the only way we will get a better, more differentiated, more exciting system is by getting involved and demanding change. Our response to scandal and lack of trust must be to understand now more than ever that “they work for us” not the other way round.

That is why the differences that seem to be emerging are exciting. If you believe in a strong central government which will spend more and give the average person more state protection then you’ve got a choice in Labour. If you believe in less central power and smaller government then the choice is Conservative.

At last, and somewhat ironically given that we have retrenched to the traditional left-right big/small government dynamic, the third way, of Blair, Mandelson, Campbell and Gould, a marketing flim-flam if ever there was one, is dying back and we have a seemingly clearer choice.

When the election stays at the surface level, as it surely will for people who opt out, then all you hear is the focus grouped messages of “fairness”. The reality is that there is emerging differentiation. The leaders are showing their colours. We have greater access to information and content than ever before with information rich websites and televised debates.  The more we engage, and debate, the greater sense of where the real differences lie. “Stuffing the election”, opting-out and throwing our hands up in the air is the surest way to ensure that nothing changes. 

The choices maybe becoming somewhat clearer but they are far from easy and that’s the difference between democracy and Tesco, Ryannair, Starbucks and Facebook. Engage and we have the chance to influence and demand better. Dis-engage and we deserve what we get.

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Justin

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Justin Basini

Entrepreneur, author of Why Should Anyone Buy From YOU?, blogger (www.basini.com), business, brand and marketing thinker and do-er, husband and dad

4 thoughts on “UK General election Brand Analysis WEEK 2: Dis-engage or Re-engage?”

  1. Piss Potts.

    Based on the TV debate are you ready to give up on your idealistic nonsense and face the dark side? There is no difference. There is no genuine voter focus. There is no point.

    Go and enjoy one of the 89,000 different options at Starbucks and accept your lot.

  2. Mark – thanks for your comments.

    I am not prepared to give up and just accept my lot. I loved the debate and I also like Starbucks. The best of both worlds.

    Cheers

    Justin

  3. So Justin, I think the more interesting question is when are you going to run for election? ;o)

    By the way, I agree entirely with you're non-free market premise but the problem I have is that day to day I don't think people are motivated enough to 'rise above' the smokescreen. I don't see this as a communication issue on the side of politicians but simply reflecting human nature.

    My concern is that with problems this complex, most people can't be reasonably expected to engage and dis-aggregate what's going on. The very best they can do is figure out how it affects them. If everyone voted this might lead to a populist policy or government but here's the thing – it still doesn't mean it would be right.

    I'm a massive fan of meritocracy – some things are best left to those who have PROVED they can manage the task.

    M

  4. Matt – thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I really don't agree that defaulting down to the lowest common denominator is the right approach. I think politics has cynically done this over the past 20 years not trusting the electorate to understand the issues.

    Much of the frustration with politics, politicians and government comes from the fact that single issue groups and the adversarial nature of our current system conspire to ensure that issues are presented as black and white.

    I remember hearing Lord Heseltine speak once and I was struck by a comment he made, "the trouble with government is that there is often no 'good' option just a set of 'crappy' ones". Life, and certainly big issues are rarely black and white.

    Is it really human nature not to want to engage in these issues and think seriously? I don't believe so. Our consumer led society over the past 50 years has delivered us to a place where it is harder to care and get involved. But even in the US around 60 million people tuned into the presidential debates and tens of thousands turned up to hear Obama.

    Arguably getting a broader consensus from a larger group of people guards against the threats of single issue groups and populist policies because the crowd has wisdom if given the right input.

    This stuff matters, resigning ourselves to a view that you and I don't care or don't have the capability to engage, surely that leads to no one bothering to engage with us.

    We are blogging and commenting on these issues – we are engaging, I don't think we are that different.

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