Personal Brands

Brand Bill vs Brand Jacinda - Game on

Yesterday I said that Jacinda Ardern becoming leader of the Labour Party could be the circuit breaker the party so badly needs to get its campaign back on track. Now that it's happened, it's time to look at what Jacinda offers that could give her the ability to succeed where Andrew Little failed.

I've already covered off how much more popular Jacinda is on social media than Andrew was (essentially twice as popular on Facebook and four times as popular on Twitter), and in the last 24 hours she's already added an extra 4,000 new likes which is a fantastic result. As I mentioned yesterday, this gives her a significant advantage over her predecessor in reaching more people organically without having to spend money on promoting posts.

I think what's more important though are the personal brands of both Bill English and Jacinda Ardern and how they contrast to each other.

Looking back to 2008, one thing that worked very well for John Key was the contrast between his personal brand of ambition, charisma and confidence, and Helen Clark's brand of stability, experience and stoicism, and this year we're finally seeing a contrast between the two party leaders, something that Andrew Little wasn't able to achieve.

The problem for Little was that his personal brand was remarkably similar to Bill English's. Both were effectively competing for the mantle of being a traditional Kiwi bloke, with the primary difference being that English traded on his rural farming background, while Little traded on his urban union background. Unfortunately for Little, John Key had been so good at occupying this position that a significant part of his brand goodwill rubbed off on Bill English, meaning Little's personal brand was trying to compete in a marketplace already dominated by an established player. In many respects, trying to "out bloke" either Key or English was always going to be a losing strategy for Andrew Little.

This is where Jacinda Ardern's personal brand comes into play. She's not trying to compete with Bill English on the traditional bloke front, rather she has her own, very successful, personal brand as an ambitious and compassionate urban liberal. Whereas Andrew Little's brand was too close to that of Bill English's, and thus struggled to get noticed, Ardern's personal brand is a stark contrast, and that's going to help it instantly get traction.

Out of interest, I did an exercise where I listed the brand qualities I attached to each leader:

Brand Jacinda

  • Youth focused
  • Intelligent
  • Energetic
  • Fresh
  • Urban liberal
  • Ambitious
  • Media savvy
  • Compassionate
  • Values driven

Brand Bill

  • Experienced
  • Intelligent
  • Stability
  • Tested
  • Ambitious
  • Strong work ethic
  • Kiwi bloke
  • Rural conservative
  • Values driven

What struck me is that both leaders' brands share several traits. They're both intelligent, they're both motivated by values that are important to them, they're both ambitious, and these are all attributes that mark them out as leaders. Where they differ, as I've alluded to earlier, is the very publicly visible parts of their brands, it's Bill's experience against Jacinda's youth focus and energy, it's Jacinda's urban liberalism against Bill's rural conservatism, it's Bill's competence and strong work ethic against Jacinda's sublime media skills and fresh face.

Jacinda Ardern absolutely offers a circuit breaker for Labour, but it's important to keep in mind that Labour's problems do go much deeper than just the leadership. The party does have fundamental structural issues that have gotten them into this mess. For instance, the leadership primary process that delivered them both David Cunliffe, Andrew Little, and all the subsequent staffing and policy disasters that have followed it. Unfortunately for Labour, seven and a half weeks away from an election isn't enough time to fix those underlying problems.

But at the very least, with Jacinda as leader, they've turned a significant corner and will make this year's election a knife-edge result