What You Can Get Away With » marketing and bullshit

Simon Titley’s got a lot of attention for the Liberator blog by posting the party’s latest ‘message script’ email. Obviously, as a mere councillor, I’m not important enough to have received that email – indeed, I seem to be missing a lot of emails from the party at present, which makes me wonder who I’ve offended – but it’s the sort of email that’s so swamped in marketing speak that I’d have likely just laughed at it and archived. Sentences like “This broadcast is the first full external use of our new Party message script – the product of Ryan Coetzee’s research into what works with our electoral market and also an extensive consultation with many Party stakeholders” sound more like an attempt to win a game of buzzword bingo than real human communication. As Simon says:

What we have here is an object lesson in how politics has been hollowed out and reduced to a matter of managerialism and public relations. It seems no-one at the top of the party has any intellectual grasp of the gravity of the situation. The global economy is in deep crisis and the problem cannot be reduced to facile slogans about “the mess left by Labour”.

It’s also worth noting Simon’s previous post on grassroots campaigning as well, because the link between them shows one of the problems we face as a party. The leadership have missed a simple point about the nature of the party: people don’t join the Liberal Democrats to be told how to think.

That’s not unique to this version of the party leadership, and there have been many times over the years when the leadership have been reduced to wringing their hands as the members assert their right to control the party. However, this isn’t the first attempt to impose central messaging upon members in the last couple of years, and it comes at a time when the leadership are continuing to ignore the membership. It’s the action of a leadership that sees the membership as little more than drones who should do as they’re told. People might join Labour or the Tories because they enjoy being told what to think and do, but that’s not what I believe the Liberal Democrats are about. (And anyone sending out that email to hundreds of party members and not expecting it to leak really doesn’t understand the party).

So no, my New Year’s resolution is not going to be “On Message, In Volume, Over Time” but to keep fighting for a party that’s open and democratic, run by the membership and fighting for liberalism, not one that’s just a hollow vehicle for marketing speak that battles for a vapid conception of the ‘centre ground’.

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You know, I tried not to comment on the whole ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ nonsense, I really did. But then, just when I thought I was out, Lib Dem Voice pulled me back in by printing some of the most vapid nonsense I’ve ever read. Indeed, I initially thought it was a new satirical column, but it turns out that Johnny LeVan-Gilroy is apparently a real person (or ‘a cross-media brand consuming human unit’ as he might refer to himself) and we are meant to take that article seriously. (Admittedly, there is still the possibility that it’s a new version of the Sokal hoax, but it feels unlikely)

OK, so ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ is just some nonsense branding phrase, perhaps a scene from The Thick Of It come to life and almost definitely heading to the same graveyard of forgotten political groupings as David Cameron’s ‘Great Ignored‘. But, what gods have we offended and what sins did we commit in a past life to have this drivel inflicted upon us?

Because of these possibilities, and the fact a national brand is now required, the Liberal Democrats are going to have to wise up to how those demographics consume content, what the media landscape will be like in 2015 and how the party has been about as redundant as an actor in Avatar at being able to communicate to these voters during the periods between elections when brand development is paramount. Becoming closer with News Corp should be key to this as they are the gatekeepers and have a direct phone line to ‘Alarm Clock Britain’.

The party also needs to look at reforming its national capabilities to be more responsive to branding, communicating to demographic groupings and adapting to the new dynamic and opportunities in government and new forms of content consumption. The latter remains the least important right now but it cannot be left to neutral civil services, as this domain has no arbitrators to be editorially objective or neutral.

Silly me, thinking politics is about values, principles, policies and ideology. No, it should be about a content-free world of ‘brand development’ and ‘content consumption’.

Remember when we used to mock Labour for their dependence on spin and soundbites, their lack of any ideology beyond what would drive the next news cycle? Yeah, I should have realised that was all being played out over a soundtrack of ‘you will be like us’.

Whatever marketing-bots like to say, the Lib Dem surge in the election did not come from the anything to do with a world where ‘branding plays as much a part as policy’. It came because people were fed up with micro-managed, content-free, focus grouped to death politics and saw, just for a moment, the prospect of something different. The reason we’re floundering now is not because we’ve failed to ‘be more responsive to branding’ but because we look like we’re becoming just like the other two and operating in a vacuum world of nonsense speak.

The last thing the Liberal Democrats need right now is an influx of drones telling us how to connect to ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ or whatever the next key demographic will turn out to be – my guess is either ‘takeaway temps’ or ‘couch share couples’, but a decent random word generator will help you generate your own – but I fear that’s exactly what we’re going to get.

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