Brand Health Check: Gordon Brown

LONDON - After a string of dubious decisions, the Prime Minister faces the task of rebuilding voters' trust in him.

A week, so the saying goes, is a long time in politics, but it took even less than that for Gordon Brown to go from bruising political heavyweight to Westminster punchbag.

At the beginning of this month, all the talk was of November elections, a healthy lead over the Conservatives and a Prime Minister ready to secure five more years in power. But just days later, Brown lost his nerve. Amid political surveys showing David Cameron's Tories catching up fast, he announced there would be no election. He then made things worse by telling cynical reporters that the decision had nothing to do with the opinion polls.

What is so damaging is that the fiasco is of Brown's own making. Talk of an election was fostered by those close to the Prime Minister and left to build in the press. To climb down, seemingly on the back of a few polls, made him appear weak and undermined his reputation as a fierce political strategist.

Equally damaging were the steps taken when an election appeared to be on the cards. In particular, Brown flew to Iraq to announce troop withdrawal in the middle of the Conservative Party conference. Such overt electioneering prompted accusations that Brown's promise to end the culture of spin inherited from Tony Blair's decade in power was no more than spin itself.

It has put Cameron, virtually written off in the press as an electoral candidate just a few weeks ago, in a strong position. The Conservatives scored political points with crowd-pleasing conference proposals to reform inheritance tax.

And, amid wide-spread scepticism of Brown's claims not to have been swayed by the polls, Cameron has taken the moral high ground, branding the prime minister a 'phoney' and delivering a drubbing in the House of Commons.

The creative execution that won Saatchi & Saatchi the Labour Party's advertising account used the simple tagline 'Not flash, just Gordon'. It played on his reputation as an honest, robust operator, in contrast to the PR-friendly, poll-led approach to politics perfected under Blair and mimicked by Cameron. The danger now is that Brown is seen as no different from either of them.

We asked Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, and Terry Hunt, chairman of EHS Brann, how Brown could regain the initiative.

Rory Sutherland vice-chairman, Ogilvy Group UK

If you want to be a great political brand, constant vote-chasing is no way to go about it.

Brown's predecessor made this mistake. By living every day as though it were election eve, Blair became sclerotic and useless. An obsession with press approval effectively killed the chance (Iraq aside) of making any difficult or memorable decisions. Unlike soap powders, politicians do not need to be likeable every day, or even at all. The opposite is true: we unconsciously want politicians to take difficult long-term decisions on our behalf.

By obsessively ringing journalists at 6am, it seems Brown has not shaken off a compulsion for marketing. He should. While you're at it, Gordon, cancel the papers, and ignore all advice from marketers until four weeks before the next election - swing voters don't give a damn about day-to-day politics anyway. Follow your conscience with some controversial decisions - a few polarising principles which, re-elected or not, will assure your place in history, even if, like Thatcher, it is only as a great 'Marmite' brand.

Remedy

  • Make a big reduction in the tax burden on working families.
  • Increase tax on non-renewable energy.
  • Adopt a world-leading position on animal rights.
  • Think the unthinkable on welfare reform.
  • Pay for your own (modest) holidays; send  your children to state schools.
  • Although energy-awareness is important, discourage your wife from showering with  new-age crystal freaks.

Terry Hunt chairman, EHS Brann

Gordon is really rather dull. Who hasn't glazed over during one of his TV interviews as he fired treasury statistics in that relentless monotone of his?

He has also, boringly, kept Britain's economy on a steady course over the past decade. Drearily, he has succeeded in supervising steady economic growth and investment in public services. And, yawn, he's done more than anyone to protect the country from high unemployment.

Gordon is not flash, just reassuringly competent at running a country. For the majority of people, unflashy competence is just fine. Who wants a daring mortgage broker these days?

Of course, this week's argy-bargy over the phantom election has reintroduced gravity to the Brown bounce, but that's no bad thing. Everybody likes to see a competitive fight.

My colleagues at Euro RSCG London have just won the Tory Party election account. They'll have a lot longer than they expected to plan their campaign.

But I know who I'd pick to win between dashing Dave and unflash Gordon.

Remedy

  • Take the current media battering on the chin. The media wasted time and money on an autumn election, but they'll get over it.
  • Leave podcasts, text messaging and Facebook to Cameron. Nobody under 30 will be impressed and most of them can't be bothered to vote anyway.
  • Don't be deterred from taking good ideas from the Tories. It really annoys them.
  • Go back to being dull.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer