Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Is Labour a zombie brand?

You all remember Smash don't you? Without doubt one of the 1970s mega-brands. The agency getting this account with its huge ad budget and massive sales would throw one hell of a big party.

What do you mean you've never heard of it? It's still there in the shops. You can buy it. Loads of people still do buy it - preferring to add hot water to powdered potato rather than peal, cook and mash actual potatoes. Those people do this out of ingrained habit. Smash isn't advertised, there's no big push to merchandise - it is, in essence, a zombie brand sustained only by this unthinking consistency from its customers.

There are plenty of other brands that still exist only from this sort of inertia, from their being part of our psychological geography - Yellow Pages, Spam, Kraft Cheese Slices, R White's Lemonade, Nimble. Pretty sure you will be able to add to this list - not just from nostalgia but from the fact that these zombies still fill shelves in supermarkets and gather dust in the corners of our cupboards.

Here's one comment on these zombies:

Brands are playing a ‘zero sum’ game: most of them compete in flat-lining categories, with private label sales expected to soon exceed branded product sales in Europe and other maturing markets like the US and Canada (Planet Retail). Brands are under increasing time pressure: the expiration date of brand creativity is getting shorter, with ideas being copied better and more rapidly. Brands can no longer rely on the classic Pareto rule: in any given category, 20% of customers currently represent maximally 50% of revenues. And brands struggle to connect with younger, more empowered consumer generations: what marketers consider to be important for the marketing-savvy millennials is not always thought of as such by the latter.

The world has changed, consumers have changed the way they make decisions and the media they use to inform them about what to buy. Brands aren't dead - just look at tech brands like Apple or at those with an ubiquity that transcends traditional media like McDonalds or Coca Cola. But that observer is right - most brands operate in stagnant markets and rely in the inertia of consumer habit, on the heuristics of brand equity, to sustain themselves. Unless they're actively shut down these brands slip lower and lower in people's perceptions, those brand short cuts aren't renewed - the brands die but still wander the land fooling a few that they are alive.

All this brings me to the Labour Party. Right now it seems pretty alive as it engages in another leadership tussle - as one member put it to me; "we move smoothly from one leadership crisis to the next". But the Party's position as a political organisation isn't sustained by the febrile positivity of the Corbyinista membership but rather by the inertial attachment to the Labour brand. That old joke about putting a red rosette on a donkey seems too true - people are voting Labour from habit. There is no other reason to do so. It's because they've always voted that way, their Mum voted that way and everyone round here votes Labour.

These voters have little in common with the people they're electing - the sons and daughters of former pottery workers in Stoke are electing Tristan Hunt, public school educated son of a public school educated life peer, without asking whether he really understands their lives or gets their concerns other than in a "these people are struggling, we should care for them" sort of way. And old-fashioned, conservative working class communities are electing middle class 'third sector' workers who are their polar opposite in values and outlook.

Yet the real truth about the struggle within the Labour Party is that it's a battle over this brand - over the loyalty of those voters. It's not a fight over the 'soul of the Labour Party' or any such nonsense, it's rather about two incompatible political positions - anti-market socialism and pro-market social democracy - having a fight to the death over the right to brandish that Labour rose. It doesn't occur to either camp to think whether the policies they propose are actually these brand-loyal Labour voters actually want. Do these mostly working class voters really think the gender balance in boardrooms or among BBC presenters is all that important? Or for that matter the plight of Palestinians, fair trade or solidarity with Latin American socialist dictatorships. Yet these are the issues the two competing halves of Labour seem most concerned about.

And none of this matters when the roof leaks, you've no overtime again this week, there's another red letter and your son can't get a job because he has a record for selling weed. Yet people like this - if they can be bothered at all - loyally troop to endorse the Labour brand. After all the alternative is the Tories - the party of the boss, the man in the suit and the patronising sorts with posh accents who drive big saloon cars and drink gin at the golf club.

Labour is a zombie brand. Any continued appearance of life is breathed into the corpse by habitual voting, the tribal inertia of brand loyalty. But this matters, those millions of voters who will never vote anything other than Labour really are why people are tearing the party to shreds over its brand. Whoever owns the brand - regardless of the policies they put forward - can rely on those loyal voters. If the Party splits - and it still might - the winner is the one with the brand.



Curmudgeon said...

The working class are increasingly seeing through it and voting UKIP.

asquith said...

You're partly right, readers of "Revolt on the Right" by Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin or "UKIP" by Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo will note that many working-class are turning direct to UKIP. Farridge, while still essentially a Thatcherite, has been talking om what could be seen as old-time socialist language, and many around him such as Paul Nuttall & John Bickley more sincerely believe this.

Around 2012 the libertarians were routed and UKIP moved to a position that was economically Thatcherite and socially conservative, but now increasingly Farridge has been talking left and many of the footsoldiers of UKIP want someone who acts left. Without Farridge, UKIP might become more like the Front Nationale or the FPO, combining nationalism with socialism. Curmudgeon is right and could be even more so, though I'd say this isn't anyone's idea of an encouraging thing, an even more regressive UKIP as if Farridge's party wasn't bad enough.

(Susanne Evans represents a different dymanic, and I don't fancy her chances because she isn't in keeping with what particularly the newer members think).

Incidentally, I live in Stoke and I think you're a little unfair in talking about Tristram, who represents and neighbouring seat and whom I might if I lived in his constituency vote for, despite my antipathy to Blairites and "Old Labour" (we've had enough of those running the city for decades) alike.

The sort of person you're on about definitely exists- I'm "represented" by one- but all struggling areas could do with a local champion like Tristram fighting for them.