Branding Politics


In the aftermath of the recent Rudd-Gillard leadership debacle within the Australian Labour party I think it’s fitting to take look at some of the best political branding moments.


And where better to start than Obama? Barak Obama is probably one of the best examples of political branding. 18 months before running for Presidency many people didn’t even know the name Obama. He was the ‘challenger brand’ who took nothing for granted. From the beginning he had a clear and consistent communications strategy that encompassed a simple and relevant campaign message. Obama utilised one key word to communicate his campaign. Change. This one word allowed the American public to take ownership of it. To embrace it and make it their own. People interpreted what change meant for them and it became personal.


But just as importantly Obama also included the right balance of personal brand to his campaign. In politics as we all know, votes can often be decided based on personalities rather than policies. The Obama brand was and is attainable yet aspirational. And the results are clear. The public love Obama and we now have the first African-American President of the USA.


Talking about loveable political brands…no one can deny the brand that was JFK. Kennedy knew how to connect emotionally with his public and how to communicate his message. Like Obama, he was authentic and related to his audience on more than just politics. People loved him. He and his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier were treated like pop stars and had influence on industries far beyond politics including fashion. And like any good brand, JFK will be remembered for ever. Similar to the way Obama has embraced technology in recent years, JFK was not afraid to do something new. At the time Kennedy was running for Presidency, TV was big news and he realised the power of this new channel. Leading up to the election, when there was less than 0.2% between him and his opponent Richard Nixon, he focused his campaign around the first ever televised presidential debate. Most newspapers at the time agreed that the way he communicated his message on TV ultimately won him the election. That and the strength of his personal brand.


Kevin Rudd’s 2007 campaign was one of the most successful Australian political brands, if not the most successful. Kevin-07 drew in a young audience who had previously not been known to engage in politics. With a young, tech-savvy audience, his campaign took on viral popularity and accounted for many votes. K-Rudd as he was affectionately known at the time, leveraged his loveable(?), yet somewhat dorky nature to attract new audiences. While JFK and Obama were inspirational, Rudd took a more attainable, down-to-earth approach to his personal brand. And there’s no denying that he is a wonderful campaigner. For one he actually had a brand and a communications strategy.

At the time it was hugely successful. However it is now quite obvious that he’s going to need a new strategy in the current political race against Coalition leader, Tony Abbott.

Let’s face it. Whether we like it or not, politics is just as much about marketing as any B2C or B2B brand. It’s about selling an image and an often personal one. Obama got it. He understood what the public wanted in a brand – something authentic that they believe in. Keith Reinhard, Chairman of DDB Worldwide once said; “Barack Obama is three things you want in a brand. New, different, and attractive. That’s as good as it gets.”

So what does this all mean for Kevin? When politics is so much about personal brands and being authentic how will Rudd measure up? There’s no doubt that the long-standing Rudd-Gillard battle has tarnished both the K-Rudd brand as well as the Labour party. The next few months will be all telling but I think there’s a real lesson here for any brand to take note of.

Sandy Muir
Director of Brand Projects
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