Branding a political party

23 Jul 2019 by Jason Linnell

“Change we can believe in…Yes We Can”

Very few people will forget Barak Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. Regardless of your political leanings, he electrified the world and heightened political awareness to levels not seen since John F Kennedy’s campaign.

And it was all about the brand. Arguably one of the most successful political brands in history. It was simple, reassuring and centred on a clear message of ‘hope’. Supported by a sophisticated marketing campaign that was straight out of the business playbook, Obama became one of the world’s most recognised people. Seemingly overnight. 

ACT party updated logo

Last year, I remembered all this watching the television news one evening. ACT’s MP and party leader, David Seymour, was giving a speech saying that his party was rebranding. As a voter who sits in the middle of the political spectrum, it got me wondering about what was the ACT brand? What did they stand for and why, with polls having them at 1%, was this twenty-year plus old party not resonating with the electorate?

Naturally, this curiosity led me to call David and so Insight Creative’s association with rebranding ACT began. 

As I suspected, ACT had found themselves in a position where the electorate was indeed not sure what ACT stood for. And even if they did, people were just not listening to the messages. Our challenge was pretty clear and not dissimilar to the business and government agency challenges we regularly worked on. It was about discovering a clear expression of what ACT stood for, define who that would appeal to (and why) and then finally, work out how that would translate to electoral success. 

Much like any brand to succeed, we knew that ACT had to be genuine. Without that, it couldn’t be trusted. Our research uncovered consistent messages and actions over their entire political existence. Nearly all of those originated from a position of profoundly caring about New Zealand and its people. The findings were also at odds with the perception that ACT was a party ‘for grumpy old white, rich men’. 

The overarching message though, was that ACT stood for personal freedom. This was the founding principle that their brand promise was built upon, but had been lost at some stage. It was also a position that would resonate with people who wanted less government intrusion in their lives and who took responsibility for their futures – in their family, their workplace and communities. 

Knowing that, we also considered changing the party’s name. But this is as sensitive a debate in political branding as in any commercial activity. Would the new name get enough recognition widely and quickly enough? Will the party lose all the brand equity it had built up over 20-plus years? Would a new name isolate those faithful to the brand, causing them to move elsewhere?

These were all considered questions as we then designed the options that would bring the ACT brand promise of freedom back to the fore. Each iteration was then sense-checked against our criteria for a what a successful political brand had to do:

Was the message simple and clear?

Was the brand promise unique?

Would the electorate be reassured by the brand?

Does the brand create aspiration among voters?

Would the brand be credible and genuine by delivering?

The end result was a modern, impactful reiteration of what ACT have always stood for. We were also able to shift ‘ACT’ from being an acronym to a dynamic verb able to carry a myriad of policy positions. Again, in a simple, unique way that would be credible with their brand promise. 

In a time when political deliverables and transparency were promised but are absent, it will be intriguing to see how ACT’s brand promise will resonate with the electorate in 2020.

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