July 30, 2015The slick marketing campaign of Jeremy Corbyn
I admire Jeremy Corbyn as a man of principle. His principles aren’t mine – but I admire him nonetheless.
It turns out so do a lot of other people. Because incredibly, Jeremy Corbyn, the far-left candidate who befriended Sinn Fein at a time when the IRA were still targeting civilians with terror attacks on British Soil and now wants us to leave NATO – is poised to take leadership of the Labour party.
And although it’s a long, long, long shot, his grassroots activist base could propel him into 10 Downing Street in 2020.
He only even made it onto the Labour leadership ballot because people lent him their support to balance the ticket and have ‘a proper debate’.
How did Corbyn – in less than three months – become an unstoppable force?
From a marketing perspective, the answer’s pretty simple.
1. He stands out
Politicans are a bland bunch at the best of times. They give nuanced answers to avoid offending anyone – or even to avoid revealing their true intentions. As Tom Albrighton pointed out, the other Labour candidates look like regional managers at some kind of sales conference. They are bland and forgetful in their cheap suits with their cheap promises.
With his headline grabbing opinions and unusual, casual style of dress, Corbyn is Dr Pepper in a Pepsi / Coca Cola world. He dares to be different and his whole campaign is built around that.
2. He’s harnessed the power of social media
You might imagine that a left wing party, having been decisively rejected at the ballot box in favour of a right wing government, might pay heed to the verdict of the electorate.
You might also imagine that they would remember the last Labour leader to win a general election whose name wasn’t Tony Blair was Harold Wilson, forty-one years ago. After two decades of infighting and the radical left-wing manifesto dubbed ‘the longest suicide note in history’, Tony Blair finally took his party to the centre ground to win.
But the majority of Corbyn’s support comes from the young and the disenfranchised — the people who are looking for a British answer to Syriza. They don’t remember the ‘suicide note’ of 1983. Or that militant entryism caused the Labour-SDP split. Or care about the IRA’s reign of terror in the 80s and early 90s.
All they know is that Corbyn represents something different – in a way that none of the other candidates do.
They’re the precise demographic that is most likely to be most vocal online as well as most active in the streets. It was the demographic that created ‘milifandom‘ and convinced a lot of people that Labour could actually win.
In short, Corbyn’s supporters are able to use social media to capture the attention of the press and help to shape its news agenda. Corbyn is getting a lot of free advertising as a result.
And the message that’s being sent, over and over again?
3. He stands for change
If ‘stand out’ was the ‘Dr Pepper strategy’ then ‘stand for change’ is the Obama strategy. It’s also the Dove Real Beauty strategy, by the way.
Find something that isn’t good enough. And build a campaign around it.
Change vs continuity is a powerful and compelling story.
The other three Labour candidates are continuity candidates. They were all part of the previous Labour administration – an administration that the young don’t think went far enough.
His campaign has managed to tap into the unhappiness and resentment felt by a lot of people who have been marginalised by successive centrists or centre right governments. They don’t believe they’ve even had a chance to vote for ‘their party’ since before Tony Blair led them to the right. Corbyn promises to change all that.
In short, a lot of people aren’t voting for Corbyn – they’re voting for ‘anything but the current lot’. In this way he’s become a figurehead for a disenfranchised segment of the population.
In other words, he’s found an untapped market.
Corbyn won’t win in 2020. If he does I’ll buy a hat and eat it. While Corbyn’s supporters may be vocal, they’re the views of an energetic and vocal minority.
But Corbyn shares one thing in common with the Tories — a single, decisive message, appearing to stand for something (for the Tories, it was economic competence vs economic chaos) – in a crowded arena of politicians who appear to stand for nothing.
It’s little wonder people are electrified by Corbyn’s entry into the Labour leadership race. His extremist views may make him unpalatable to the wider electorate, but he appears to be the first Labour leader in a generation who actually stands for something.
It’s not just good politics. It’s good marketing.