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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...

branding a political party 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. 

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.

act, act party, political branding, insight creative

Clients have their own internal clients

19 Jun 2019 by Jason Linnell

“ Well, you marketing people would think that ”. The workshop we were running for our clients had not started well. We were working with our marketing client to deliver an internal programme that had many moving...

clients have their own internal clients jason linnell

well, you marketing people would think that”.

the workshop we were running for our clients had not started well. we were working with our marketing client to deliver an internal programme that had many moving parts across their entire business. to deliver it successfully we needed input from their sales teams, distribution people, finance and, it – whom the head of made his opinion about marketers quite clear. as representatives from each division sat around the large boardroom table, the silos were clear from the get-go. 

as we let the conversation run around the table, i realised we were witnessing something agencies don't see enough of each day – our client's internal client relationships. 

so often the world with our direct client becomes quite insulated. we form strong relationships with them, deliver great work and often provide an outlet for them to off-load their frustrations. but the question is, how well do agencies know their clients' internal clients? how deeply do we understand what it takes to make their business succeed? not to mention, be aware of the pressures that fill our clients' days. 


"i realised we were witnessing something agencies don't see enough of each day – our client's internal client relationships"


what's essential is to not just recognise your client’s pressure, but understand why it happens. the best way to do that is to get to know your client's clients. this can be as simple as asking your client if you can meet different people within the organisation. ideally together, so that you can watch and listen to how they talk about their business. the different perspectives are often startling and can lead to unveiling critical insights. it will also help you ask questions about your client's business that they may have forgotten to brief the agency about.

this invariably leads to stronger results for your clients. because once you're back in the agency, you can use this knowledge to deliver the right solutions. that great packaging the team are designing may just not fit with what you know sue in manufacturing said about the conveyor struggling to pack anything that isn't rectangular. 

the above is just a small example. your client needs to be aware of every issue that makes up their final offer. so based on that, how can we make sure that offer is enhanced – not disrupted – by us? 


"the different perspectives are often startling and can lead to unveiling critical insights"


ultimately, the answer for that is to pave the way for our marketing client to easily sell our ideas and solutions to the broader organisation. that takes a deep understanding of what’s essential to the wider business. we also need to give clear direction on how we got to where we did, so our client can readily answer any internal questions. 

creating every-day tools is also a must for smooth internal client relationships. developing comprehensive approval and sign-off processes must be in place. tight adherence to internal deadlines and providing well-managed asset libraries, template systems and the like, all help our client work well with all of theirs.


clients, your client's clients, client relationships

When is a prescribed solution not the right answer?

17 Sep 2018 by Jason Linnell

The client briefing at their office had not felt right from the start. We had enjoyed working with this client for some time and had always thought we were in a partnership. However, today was different.  There...

when is a prescribed solution not the right answer? jason linnell

the client briefing at their office had not felt right from the start. we had enjoyed working with this client for some time and had always thought we were in a partnership. however, today was different. 

there were none of the preambles chat about how the weekend was, and the client team looked like they needed to be elsewhere. the brief that was handed out was a tome. it felt as dense as the atmosphere in the room and was filled with pages of technical jargon. 

after being given a cursory review of the opportunity and why the brief had been written, i asked for more details. it was clear at a glance the proposition was vague, and the brief hadn’t defined what success looked like at the end. it was also prescriptive and telling us what the solution had to be. 

“this needs to be done. just get on with it please.”

so with that, the client looked at her watch, stood up and said she had to go. 

as i suspected, the client had other significant issues on her plate and that day’s briefing was an anomaly. however, knowing that later didn’t help me in the ride back to the agency that day.  

the tricky part was being told to deliver a prescribed solution.

reading the brief in the back of the uber, i surmised we could live without clear goals. they could be drawn out in the reverse brief stage. i also knew we could tighten the proposition. 

the tricky part though was being told to deliver a prescribed solution. agencies and clients work best when they start at the beginning of an opportunity or problem with an agnostic approach to the solution. it invariably never works when a client says we must have ‘one of these, one of those and two of them’. it also restricts us producing what we’re paid to deliver – the best insight-led solutions that make people sit up, take notice and act.

besides, if the parameters are too tight, the breadth of thinking becomes restricted and real creativity risks being suffocated. 

however, it’s not just clients who can prescribe solutions. every client service person has been guilty of rushing a brief, ‘banging out a solution’ and handing it over to the creative team without really thinking about what needs to be solved.  

before writing a brief, i always recall one of my favourite lines ‘i apologise for the length of this letter, but i did not have time to write a shorter one’. by making a brief sharper, tighter and more focused, invariably the creative work that comes out is sharper, tighter and more focused. instead of confining the work, tighter briefs will have the opposite effect. they instead have a liberating impact on creatives who can more easily explore in and around the direction the brief provides. 

which also means not being prescriptive with a solution. 

but how to address this with the client?

agencies produce their best work through collaboration. not just within their own walls, but with their clients. no matter how well we think we know our client’s business, they bring a unique point of view to the process. at the beginning of each relationship, agencies should always stress that they want their clients actively involved in the work. this particular client was usually a more than willing participant, and i knew that by asking her more questions – in a day or so – that her experience working with us would come to the fore. 

which it eventually did. based on the original brief it was clear our client hadn’t taken the time to ‘write a shorter letter’. instead of pushing on we went back and asked three clarification questions; 1) what exactly was the business problem and why was solving it was so important 2) what did we want our target audience to feel, think and do as a result of our work and finally, 3) what did success look like and how were we going to measure it.

by being open, not rushing the reverse brief process and helping our busy client ‘write that shorter letter’, we got her to realise her first brief wasn’t going to deliver the results she wanted. 

the eventual result exceeded the expectations of everyone involved.

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