I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t blog about politics. I’m an avid political train-spotter, declared social-democrat and I spend far too much time on twitter talking about politics, but I wasn’t going to write about it. There’s already so many political blogs that I can’t contribute anything new there.
I do know a thing or two about branding though, both from an academic perspective and from real world experience. I’m not some fancy ad exec, but I’ve spent a few years leading product and biz development efforts, and I believe that having a strong, relateable identity is key to a successful product launch.
In the brand identity stakes (and most others…) Labour just got owned. There’s no denying that Vote Positive didn’t work. I’ll admit that I voted for them, but mostly because David Cunliffe smiles and says hi when I see him on Herne Bay beach - and because the Greens annoyed me with their smug ‘Love NZ’ campaign.
There are loads of people, including Labour’s own MP David Shearer, arguing that the solution to Labour’s electoral woes is to move to the centre, thereby capturing swing voters by offering them Labour-flavoured National. This doesn’t make sense and feels pointlessly reactionary. Moving to the centre feels like a strategy born out of anger and bitterness, rather than any kind of rational response to re-building Labour’s vote (this is articulated better by Morgan Godfrey here).
People get behind things they can believe in, and they can believe in the National party because they didn’t have to work very hard to get there. National’s whole brand this election was centred around keeping things stable, and the electorate bought it. National barely discussed any policy, but that was because they didn’t need to. They used slick advertisements and simple metaphors to sell one of the most bland and boring political brands I’ve ever seen in my short time voting (4 elections now). That they got away with it shows just how terrible all of their competitors were at convincing the public to believe in their brands.
Labour may or may not need to move to the centre, that is a political positioning discussion that is for people with more experience than I to hash out. That’s only part of it though. What Labour REALLY need to do is to look at the competitive landscape and go where there’s a gap. I can assure them that bland, boring stability is occupied.
Now, I don’t talk about this to try and minimise the fact that Labour need to sort their shit interally. They’re currently a joke and MPs like David Shearer and Phil Goff going on Morning Report and publicly dissecting their loss doesn’t inspire confidence. Danyl Mclauchlan put it succintly with his ‘Mclauchlan’s Hierarchy of Political Needs’. Labour desperately need to stop being incompetent, but that’s a given so I won’t dwell there.
Assuming they do get their house in order, they then need to find their own space and own it. They cannot own what National already does, so they need to go somewhere else. I personally think this is a good thing. Who really lusts after Dell? We all want Apple (or some of us Samsung I guess), but we only place our trust and dollars there because we believe that they can deliver on it. Once Labour get to that point of competence they need to establish an aspirational brand that New Zealanders can get behind (which New Zealanders is up to the party).
National have actually done them a favour in choosing the easy, stable path: they’ve left open a massive flank. National could’ve gone with a more visionary brand, but they didn’t. They probably still would’ve won, but they also would’ve had more of a story to tell for the future. That they didn’t even bother shows just how strong their internal polling showed their support was. This is a massive opportunity for Labour, but it’s risky because its effectiveness is all in the execution.
They’re going to need coherent messaging from their entire caucus, which seems like an impossible task at present; a strong , likeable leader who people believe when they tell them the message; good, accurate data that allows them to work out the difference between people coming round to the message slowly and outright rejecting it. They’re going to need to set this all up in 6 months.
I honestly don’t know if they can do it, but I hope they can. New Zealand needs a strong centre-left block and they need their politicans to actually articulate their visions for the country. That National currently don’t have to is terrible for New Zealand, but it’s an opportunity for the Labour party. They should seize it, hopefully without fucking it up.