New Labour can show marketers how job’s done

As 1997 hangs up its clogs, I’m awarding my personal Lion D’Or for marketing campaign of the year to - fanfare of trumpets, spotlight fingers Tony and Pete sitting shyly at the back of the hall - New Labour’s relaunch.

As 1997 hangs up its clogs, I’m awarding my personal Lion D’Or for

marketing campaign of the year to - fanfare of trumpets, spotlight

fingers Tony and Pete sitting shyly at the back of the hall - New

Labour’s relaunch.

It was a model marketing exercise - though I’ll bet a well-stuffed brown

envelope to David Mellor’s Chelsea strip that no document called ’The

New Labour Marketing Plan’ was ever written.

Only a few years ago, most pundits believed Labour was to politics what

the Dodo is to ornithology: a fascinating but extinct creature. To

relaunch Labour (or indeed the Dodo) would, they believed, be

impossible. Yet that’s what New Labour did. In marketing terms, no mean

achievement. What does it teach us?

First, contrary to widespread belief, it was not simply an image


From the start, Blair and his team recognised they would need to get the

’product’ right before they could communicate its consumer benefits. It

was not, in other words, all down to Mandelson’s machiavellianism.

Like all good marketing men, Blair was guided throughout by market


But equally, like all good marketing men, he doesn’t follow survey

findings slavishly. He knows it is essential to establish what the

marketplace wants, even if you cannot provide it.

Contrary to marketing puffery, marketing rarely provides people with

exactly what they want. Doubtless everyone would like a winter holiday

in the Bahamas, but it’s not affordable. Likewise, everyone would like

better healthcare, but it’s not affordable. Marketing involves finding

what people want and then producing the best product possible, within

the constraints of cost and realism. That’s what New Labour did.

Second, the improvement of the ’product’ and the communication of its

benefits went hand in hand. Changing Labour without communicating the

change professionally - as Old Labour would have done - would have been

pointless. On the other hand, claiming Labour had changed when it had

not would have been equally futile. Marketing involves getting both the

product and the communications right. That’s what New Labour did.

Third, many different communications specialists were involved - public

relations, direct marketing, above-the-line advertising, wads of

literature, road shows and the rest - and they had to be orchestrated

into a harmonic whole. That’s what New Labour did.

The supreme irony is that not only can we be sure no marketing plan was

ever written, we can also be sure neither Blair nor Mandelson has the

foggiest notion of what marketing even means. They doubtless think it is

advertising, or selling, or sales promotion. Wrong. But then they don’t

need to know. They have proved themselves instinctively good at it - as

the best marketers always have been.


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