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
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.