The Political Brand Icons: Charisma or Just Good PR?

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on December 07, 2011

“A politician will do anything to keep his job - even become an actor.

This quote by William Randolph clearly tells us how much politics has evolved over the years. Political communication too, has changed, from ideological preaching to lifestyle branding. In the traditional days, political communication was structured along a small number of grand themes. In today’s modern world, politicians cannot rely upon the old forms of pomp and ceremony to justify what they do. Instead, politicians like actors have come to rely on political marketing techniques, on forms of communication based on persuasion in which voters, lacking enduring political convictions, are motivated to select a particular candidate or party at election time.

Political Branding

Being charismatic is a part of the politician’s job. However, to exude just the right amount of charisma at the right time is extremely crucial. Following the coverage of the election campaigns in various countries, one cannot resist the impression that this might be a brand war than a political contest. Journalists’ and bloggers’ language is so riddled with terms from marketing and brand management that one could as well be reading a Economic Times piece about the competition between Pepsi and Coke or an Economist review of the differences between flying British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

The Rise of the Political Brand

Be it the famous “Change” campaign of Democratic President Barack Obama or strategy to reconnect the former Prime Minister of UK, Tony Blair with disaffected voters, commercial frameworks have become immensely successful. Blair sought the services of Promise plc, a commercial consultancy specializing in brand building. Promise converted the ‘old and patronizing Tony’ to “fresh, mature and approachable Tony”; thereby branding Labour Party as the “New Labour”. Similarly, David Muir, a former adman and co author of ‘Business of Brands’ is considered to be the man behind Gordon Brown’s PR camapign.

Tony BlairObamaDavid Muir

Back home, in 2009, L.K.Advani, the BJP stalwart went the Obama way. He started his re-branding campaign with the statement, “Man of Eighties, Vision of Twenties”. He was projected as an ordinary Indian who was emotional, yet energetic enough to give a new direction to the country in political turmoil. Like Obama's presidential campaign, ads calling for Advani as P.M. were flashed in more than 2,000 websites which were frequented by Indians. Much on the lines of Obama, Advani also wrote his biography which was marketed in a planned manner. NDTV, India’s leading news channel was also roped in the re-branding efforts which promptly conferred its Lifetime achievement Award on him.

The Cynical Voters

Today, politicians not only thrive on their leadership qualities but also on the PR that goes behind it. The mind-set of voters, taking part in general elections of has matured over the years. Politically, they have become more aware and at the same time demanding as well. Therefore, it is essential that the political parties, in the near future, plans their political marketing in a more responsive, accountable and in a professional manner. This is the reason why applications of brand management principles in political parties are continuously increasing in many countries.

Ghana’s Story

A South African brand management agency, Brand Leadership Group was the brain behind the political communication that led to the success of Professor John Atta Mills, the opposition NDC presidential candidate who was sworn in as Ghana's president in 2009. Mills, a former vice-president in the Rawlings era defeated the ruling party, NPP's Nana Akufo-Addo in a tightly contested run-off on 28 December, 2008 claiming victory with 50.23% of the vote to Akufo-Addo's 49.77%.

Brand Leadership Group, which was appointed by the opposition party early 2008 envisioned and implemented the campaign right up to the run-off which became necessary when a clear winner could not emerge from the initial poll. Blending the principles of marketing, branding and political campaigning, the agency came up with a strategy founded on what it called the "four-phase political branding" campaign designed to reassure committed voters, win swing voters and re-establish the NDC and Mills as the best custodians of Ghana's values, ambitions and prosperity.


Branding essentially refers to any organization’s activities aimed at the creation and fostering of a distinct brand image in consumers’ minds. These activities involve a focusing of resources “on selected tangible and intangible attributes to differentiate the brand in an attractive, meaningful, and distinct manner for the targeted audience.” Similarly, in politics, all factors shaping a voters’ perceptions – be it media, politician’s behavior, or the actual issues raised by him, needs to be aligned in such a manner that it reflects good leadership. The message should be simple, unique, reassuring, aspirational, value-based and credible. It is often observed that successful politicians are those having the ability to deliver simple, credible and reassuring messages over time.

The characteristics of product branding are related to political PR; like emotional connect, promotion through multiple channels and gaining trust. Trust building, in political PR, refers to use of value-based words, phrases and symbols to connect with the voters in order to gain the necessary support. Politics is all about trusting a candidate in the age of mistrust. Hence, political brands can be cultivated as well as contaminated through good PR.

This article has been authored by Dr. Yashaswi Barapatre from IIFT, Delhi

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