Monday, September 01, 2008

Political parties are NOT brands

There is a subtle but quite dreadful corruption of thought with the attachment of the word "brand" to political parties. It goes with the adoption of supermarket politics and the use of the word "punter" to describe voters.

Brand is a commercial term. It describes something we buy, something to which marketers have attempted to attach an image or bundle of attributes. Branding sells cars or soap powder.

Political parties are not brands even if they have some of the elements of brands and branding. I do not vote for, or refuse to vote for, a political party because I like the brand. I do so, or refuse to do so, because I like or dislike the things that the party stands for.

Politics is about ideas and actions. Mr Howard did not lose the last election because there were problems with the coalition brand. He lost it because of the Government's actions.

The sad irony in the current popularity of brands and branding, and not just in politics, is that the last few decades have seen the greatest period of brand destruction in modern economic history. Few of Australia's iconic brands of the 1970s survive today.

The application in politics, public policy and public administration of ideas, concepts, drawn from business does not really work.

Elsewhere I have argued for evidence based approaches, including evidence based management. There is no evidence that I know of that the application of business management approaches in the Government sphere has actually improved performance outside very specific and narrowly defined cases.

Business management itself is marked by fads and fancies. These translate into politics and public life with a lag. Current orthodoxies in public administration can be traced back sixty years.

Branding in politics will go for the same reasons that other fads have gone. They do not deliver. In the meantime, we all pay the price.

Postscript

Neil picked this post up in Personal Reflections: Political parties are NOT brands. I hereby deny that I am a Grumpy Old Man, at least on this issue!

Oddly, or perhaps not, if you look at the things that Neil and both write about, you will see that we both share a view that things can be better and that (perhaps idealistically) we still believe that we as individuals can make a difference.

2 comments:

Neil said...

Jim, I pride myself on being a GOM. I meant it as a compliment. ;)

Jim Belshaw said...

That was fast, Neil! I was not upset. I, too, sometimes use the GOM tag with pride.