Marketing Strategies of UK Political Parties
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In this paper we examine the use of political marketing in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. It focuses on the hypothetical theoretical aspects of marketing frameworks, which are identified and applying these frameworks to the marketing strategies of the political parties within the UK and the US. Additionally, we compare and contrast certain aspects of the marketing frameworks that have been identified with the parties, analysing whether the use of the frameworks are inherently present with regard to their electioneering and campaigning strategies.
Political marketing has come to be an increasingly exciting and integrated phenomenon that the majority of significant public figures and political employees are vividly aware of. It holds the potential to transform politics as we know it, and exert a tremendous influence on the way everyone's life is run, but we will only ever reach a greater understanding of the existing and potential consequences of political marketing if we acknowledge and accept the breadth and nature of the phenomenon. The reason why marketing can be attached to politics is that in essence they share some common tenets: the aim to understand how political organisations act in relation to their market and vice versa. Furthermore, marketing, being somewhat more prescriptive, provides tools and ideas about how organisations could behave in relation to their market in order to set aims and objectives, so that at the end they can achieve their goals. It can help an organisation understand the demands of its market. The idea of a political system that meets people's needs and demands links back to traditional politics: Jones and Moran (1994, 17) argue that British democracy means that the people can decide the government and exercise influence over the decisions governments take. Political marketing is simply a way of doing this in the 21st century with a critical, well informed and consumerist mass franchise.
The evidence suggests that major British parties are not just applying the techniques of marketing, but its concepts. They appear to be determining their policies to match voters concerns (using findings from survey research and focus groups) rather than basing them on ideological considerations. Therefore, they are attempting to become what is known in business terms as ‘market oriented' and designing their ‘product' to suit consumer demands. This would imply a new role for political parties, one at odds with the traditional role assumed by the standard literature. It may also cause potential problems for political parties in the long-term, as well as having significant normative implications for politics as a whole.
This paper therefore explores the full potential of political marketing on a theoretical level integrating management, marketing and political science literature to find out how British political parties and the US political parties have used marketing and become market-oriented. It will examine the extent to which the ‘New Labour Party' in 1997 exhibited behaviour in line with this model and comparing this with the Conservatives in 1979. We would also consider its use in the US by the Republican and Democratic political party and how it has affected the political landscape. It will be seen how the Conservative party used marketing to inform policy design, a model which ‘New Labour' followed but to a greater extent, using results from market intelligence to push for changes to the role of the memberships and further centralisation of power to ensure a clear organisational structure within the party. In more recent times, the endorsement of George W. Bush (jnr), by the Republican Party in the US and how the product, i.e. his behaviour over the election period leading up to his election win was galvanised through political marketing. It is hoped that this paper will highlight how the implications of political marketing are much wider than at first sort.
Marketing is a form of management or method used primarily by business organisations. It has evolved to include the design and promotion of a product to ensure that the goals of the organisation, the prime one being to make profit in the case of a business, are met. It is not just about selling, or in this case campaigning. As Levitt (1960: 50) argues, that the difference between marketing and selling is more than dynamic. Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing focuses on the need of the buyer. The current marketing philosophy focuses on how firms can satisfy customers wants, and adopt what is called a market-oriented approach as this is deemed the most effective way to meet the firms goals Drucker (1954:37). Cannon (1996:6) found that with business organisations the idea that firms exist, first and foremost, to satisfy customer's needs has not been accommodated easily into the operations of many organisations. It is likely in this case, to be even more difficult with a political party, which is bound to consist of many ideas and attitudes to how the party as a whole should behave, not the least, different theories of the meaning of democracy and the role of the elites.
Kotler and Andreasen (1987:505), suggest that everything about an organisation, which includes, its products, employee's facilities, and actions, all communicate something to the general public. Not only the nature of the leader, but also the behaviour and rights of the party's member's could be influential in attracting or repelling voters. As Shaw (1994:175) puts it, the British Labour party failed to win the 1992 general election because (amongst other factors), despite changes in policy, the then leader of the party, lacked the time and support to transform the party itself, a fatal weakness, since the character and behaviour of its activists at the time, its ethos, language and rituals, and most importantly, its close association with the trade unions, all alienated the electorate. A party with the wrong approach to gain the attention of the voting electorate is more likely to fail. As Scullion and Dermody (2004:361), argues that the campaigns employed by the political parties were being accused of failing to engage a disinterested young electorate.
In their comparison of New Labour (UK) and New Democrats (US), Ingram and Lees-Marshment (2002:5), state that systemic differences between the countries, the UK and US, substantially condition the scope, focus, and application of political marketing and although American campaigns maybe the breeding ground for technological innovation and birth of political marketing, there is more potential for the use of political marketing in Britain, due to the more centralised nature of political parties and campaigns and to the component delivery of the marketing model. This article found that Labour's approach was far broader in scope, influencing aspects of its policies, personnel, internal organisation, and leadership behaviour. One should also understand that the use of marketing as a tool for political gains is not a new thing. Eisenhower's use of direct male in the early 50's in the US, and in the UK, Margaret Thatcher's use of the Saatchi and Saatchi advertising agency (Scammell, 1994:23). However, there has been an increasing use of marketing methods in political campaigns over the latter part of the twentieth century (Smith and Saunders (1990: 295), Wring (1997:1131). To date the dominant paradigm has been to adapt consumer goods marketing ideas and frameworks (Baines and Egan, 2001:1), especially the marketing mix concept (Niffenegger, 1989:45). Other frameworks might provide a more fruitful basis for analysis. The broadening theory of marketing was based upon the notion that marketing ideas and techniques could be utilised whenever value is exchanged between two parties, e.g. charities, churches, and political parties, (Kotler and Levy, 1969:10). It was argued later that differences of form and content (Lock and Harris, 1996: 21), and structure and process (Butler and Collins, 1999:55) existed, and that value exchange was not so straightforward. Baines, Harris, and Newman (1999:1) additionally state that this commercial and political difference, when suggesting that political campaigns usually operate with shorter, more intense promotional campaigns, in oligopolistic markets, with polarised levels of voter loyalty, and differing potential for the degree of marketing orientation in different countries. It can be argued here that structural changes in the political landscape had an impact on the perceived need for adoption of marketing techniques. Voters are perceived to be less involved and less loyal than in the past (Ware, 1995: 6). This may partly be due to voter apathy, which is a growing trend in most western democracies. There are a number of factors that are central to the need for marketing in campaigns. They are lack of actual or perceived product differentiation; increasing numbers and frequency of electoral contests and referendum held, or simply because voters have more compelling distractions stimulated by increased wealth and leisure time. To cast ones vote was and is seen as less of a duty than was largely the case in the past. This is why marketing has evolved to be used as a way of demand intervention.
Marketing and political campaigning or vice-versa can be deemed as inseparable, because of its strategic importance to the outcome of any election. Such is the perceived value of marketing that no political party and few individual candidates would challenge the role marketing plays in the modern campaign and electoral process.
With all this in mind, this paper moves on to explore the full potential of political marketing on a theoretical level identifying the literature that a political party might use marketing and become market-orientated. It will examine the extent to which the Labour party in 1997, exhibited behaviour in line with this model and comparing this with the Conservative party in 1979. Additionally, the Republican party of the US would also be mentioned and examined with regard to correlations or differences between the use of this model, in the UK and the US between the political parties.
Therefore the remainder of this paper is set as follow:
- Chapter 3: Theoretical concepts of Political Marketing
- Chapter 4: Labour Party use of political marketing, 1997-2001
- Chapter 5: Conservative Party use of political marketing, 1997-2001
- Chapter 6: The use of political marketing in the US in comparison to the UK
- Chapter 7: Summary and Conclusion
- References and Bibliography.
Political parties use political marketing to determine their policies, organisation, communication and, ultimately, potential delivery in government. Political parties were traditionally perceived as bastions of ideology, dogma, idealism and rhetoric. In the twenty-first century, however, most if not all-political parties in the UK of varying ideologies, histories, sizes and fortunes are aware of political marketing. The extent to which they choose to use it, the form they adopt, and their success at adopting a market orientation may vary, but all understand the pressure from the political market to satisfy the general populace.
Depending on their nature, political parties can use marketing in various ways. Parties differ in their size and goals. Major parties are large, established organisations whose dominant goal is to win control of government, therefore to win a general (or devolved) election. The Conservative and Labour parties in the UK are major parties and so try to use political marketing to win an election. Their market consists of the electorate, in addition to anyone else who has influence on voters, although the parties do not need to win support from everyone to gain power. Their product includes all aspects of their behaviour. Although a major party generally asks political consumers to vote for it on the basis of what it promises to do in government, its policy promises or party manifesto which it lays out to the general electorate, voters also take into account other aspects of party behaviour such as leadership, party unity, organisation, and the behaviour of members, because these may affect the ability of the party to deliver on policy promises.
The current marketing philosophy focuses on how firms satisfy customers, and adopt what is called a market-orientation as this is deemed as the most effective way to meet the firm's goals (Drucker, 1954:37). It can be argued here that if a political party implements the marketing philosophy, it will seek to meet voters needs and wants, thus producing voter satisfaction, and in doing so gain electoral support to meet its own goals.
Orientation is a concept that the major parties should adopt, which is based on an attitude towards how they behave in relation to the electorate. There are three main political marketing orientations (Lees-Marshment 2001:692). Market-oriented parties (MOPs) design their product, including policies, leadership and organisation, to suit what political consumers demand, in order to achieve their goal of winning a general election. This does not mean they simply follow what everyone wants to them to do, because this would be impossible anyway, because demands are complex and competing. Instead they need to go through a complex process of stages. This is shown in Box 3.1.
Box 3.1 The Process for a Market-Oriented Party
Stage 1: Market intelligence
Party finds out what voters need and want by:
• Keeping an ear to the ground, talking to activists, meeting the public;
• Using quantitative research (electoral results, public opinion polls and privately commissioned studies) and qualitative research such as a focus group.
Stage 2: Product design Party designs
behaviour (including leadership, members, policies, staff, constitution and symbols) according to voters' demands.
Stage 3: Product adjustment
Party designs product to suit the electorate at large and then needs to make sure it considers other factors:
• Achievability, determine whether the product design is achievable;
• Internal reaction analysis, to alter design to ensure it will obtain the support of enough MPs and members to ensure its implementation;
• Competition analysis, this is to promote opposition weaknesses and highlight own strengths;
• Support analysis, this is with the view of focusing on winning the support of voters, it does not have, but needs to win.
Stage 4: Implementation
The findings from stages 1 – 3, must be implemented. The majority must accept the new behaviour broadly. This requires effective and considerate organisation and management.
This includes the so-called near-term or long-term campaign, but also ongoing behaviour. The party ensures that communication helps it achieve electoral success; attempts to influence others in the communication process, such as journalist and opposition parties; and uses selling techniques such as direct mail and targeted communications
Stage 6: Campaign
This can be said to be the final chance for the political party to communicate with the voters.
Stage 7: Election
The party goes through the election.
Stage 8: Delivery
The party carries out promises made once in government.
Box 3.2 The process for a Product-Oriented Party
Stage 1: Product design
The party designs its behaviour according to what it thinks best represents them.
Stage 2: Communication
This includes the so=called near-term or long-term campaign but also ongoing behaviour. Not just the leader, but all MPs and members, send a message to the electorate. The organisation is clear and effective; it is designed to advance arguments.
Stage 3: Campaign
The official election campaign period starts leading up to the election.
The general election takes place.
Stage 5: Delivery on promises made during election as stated on the party's election manifesto
The party will deliver its product in government.
Box 3.3 The Process for Sales – Oriented Party
Stage 1: Product design
The party designs its behaviour according to what it thinks best.
Stage 2: Market Intelligence
The party aims to discover voters' response to the product, especially voters who do not support the party but might, so that communications can be targeted on them. Informally, it keeps an ear to the ground, talks to party members, creates policy groups and meets with the public. Formally, it uses quantitative research (electoral results, public opinion polls and privately commissioned studies) and qualitative research such as a focus group.
Stage 3: Communication
This includes the so-called near-term or long-term campaign but also ongoing behaviour. Not just the leader, but all MPs and members send a message to the electorate. Attempts are made to ensure all communication helps achieve electoral success, and to influence others in the communication process. The organisation is clear and effective designed to advance arguments. It also makes use of selling techniques such as direct mail and targeted communications to persuade voters to agree with the party.
Stage 4: Campaign
The official election campaign period kicks in up until election. The party continues to communicate effectively as in stage 3.
Stage 5: Election
The general election.
Stage 6: Delivery
The party will deliver its promised product in government.
Other parties with different goals may not choose to use political marketing in this way i.e. Box 3.1. However, if the dominant goal of a party is to advance a particular policy, rather than win an election, it maybe more product oriented. Product – Oriented parties (POPs) decide their behaviour or product themselves without much care for the opinions of political consumers, or rather, they assume that voters will realise that it is right and vote for it accordingly. Their process is quite simple: see Box 3.2.
A product – oriented party refuses to change its ideas or product even if it fails to gain electoral or membership support. If a party is a small or minor party, with the main goal being not to win a general election but to put ideas on the agenda, this may be the most appropriate political marketing orientation.
However, most party's overtime, grow to be concerned about their performance. They may then move to a sales orientation position, retaining the same product or behaviour, but using political marketing communication techniques, see Box 3.3. Market intelligence is used not to inform the product design, but to help the party persuade voters it is right and has sound electoral policies. Sales-oriented parties are often perceived as the more manipulative, because they use marketing to persuade or change public opinion. Current research indicates that the trend in the UK, at least amongst the major political parties, is towards the market-oriented approach (Lees-Marshment 2001). The trend is to evolve from product through to sales and then finally a market orientation, responding to the gradual rise of the political consumer. Major party's can however, win power using a market-orientation and then switch back to a sales or product once in power. Political parties often find it harder to remain in touch with the public and responsive to the demands of political consumers once they are in government. Other small UK parties tend to adopt any one of the three orientations. Parties such as the Scottish National Party have moved through the classic product-sales-market –oriented cycle.
The use of marketing by political parties is not as easy as the theory suggests. The latest research in political party marketing suggests that despite the desire of both the Conservative and Labour parties to adopt and maintain a market orientation, many obstacles get in the way. This will be fully explained in the following chapters.
The Labour party has been one of political marketing's success stories of the new century, at least on the surface. Using political marketing to become more in touch with the public, reduce any unwanted historical baggage, and even relabelled itself as ‘New Labour', it first became market oriented in order to win the previous election in 1997. It remains the fullest example of a market-oriented party, following the model to the greatest degree of any party ever seen. However, after obtaining the mandate of power from the UK electorate, the party met many obstacles to delivering on its 1997election promises. This is a major potential weakness: Labour support is very much based on promised outputs, so it needs to be seen to deliver. It is in the context that Labour attempted to maintain a market orientation and retain its electoral support during 1997 – 2001.
Table 4.1 The Labour government and Delivery, February 2000
‘There is a lot of talk at the moment about whether the present government is or is not ‘delivering'. From what you know, do you think that it is or is not delivering on each of the following?
Source: Gallup Political Index
Delivery in government on the 1997 election promises
Delivering the political product as stated previously is not an easy task. It is one of unanswered potential conundrums at the heart of political marketing (Laing and Lees-Marshment, 2002:19). The Labour party understood this. The party talked constantly about the need to deliver. It copied business and started to issue an annual report on its delivery of its promises (Labour Party 1999: 3-7, 2000). Labour undoubtly succeeded in some areas, such as constitutional reform, with the introduction of devolution in Scotland and Wales and the removal of hereditary peers from the House of Lords. However, Labour failed to convince many voters that it had made real improvement to standards in the public services, which is the core part of the 1997 product. Public resentment about Labour's failures to deliver grew, Table 4.1, gives you the evidence.
There was also dissatisfaction with the Labour party. A report from the Labour party itself based on its private polls leaked in the independent warning that the party's huge lead in the opinion polls masks the fact that people are turning against the Government because they believe it is failing to deliver its 1997 general election party manifesto. In July 2000 a MORI survey indicated that 57% of respondents did not think the leader of the Labour Party had kept the parties election promises. See the following table:
Table 4.2 Perceived performance of the prime minister, July 2000
Since becoming prime minister in May 1997, do you think, Tony Blair has or has not delivered election promises made in the party's election manifesto?
Source: MORI telephone survey 20-22, July 2000
Labour therefore still needed to utilise political marketing, but this time to maintain rather than win support.
Stage 1: Market Intelligence
The Labour party conducted substantial market intelligence. Philip Gould conducted focus group work for the party; Greg Crook ran a rolling programme of opinion polling (Cook, 2002:87); the party's advertising agency, TVWA London, also conducted research (Lawther, 2002:1). Labour also analysed results of elections to local authorities, the devolved institutions, the European parliament and parliamentary by-elections (Cook, 2002:88). It took account of negative criticism despite the overall positive polls and continued to monitor the performance of the opposition. During 1997 – 2001 Labour continually discussed voters' needs.
Stage 2: Product design
The New Labour product offered to the electorate in 2001 was extremely similar to that offered in 1997, with greater determination to deliver in the second term. Policy: In terms of policy, the focus remained on raising standards in the public services, such as health and education. The party retained its commitment to low income tax and competent economic management. There were slight changes in terms of greater investment in public services in order to improve them, but such moves were made without a call o increase tax. Stephen Lawther, polling coordinator for the Scottish Labour Party, argued that Labour put forward a strong product:
• Minimum wage;
• 1 million new jobs;
• Lowest unemployment in 25 years;
• Lowest inflation in 30 years;
• Winter fuel allowance;
• Record investment in schools in hospitals;
• Small class sizes;
• A nursery place for every 4 year old;
• 10,000 more nurses in the NHS;
• Working families' tax credit reduction;
• Scottish parliament (devolution), (Lawther, 2002).
Leadership: As leader, the prime minister continued to exercise strong and determined control over his party and the senior leadership and cabinet in particular. The prime minister enjoyed extremely high popularity scores in public opinion polls until the end of the 1997-2002 periods, when he began to attract criticism for being smarmy, arrogant and out of touch with the national electorate. In June 2000, the prime minister was even slow-hand-clapped by the Women's Institute.
Internal membership: Changes were made within the party with the aim of making members more involved (Seyd 1999:390-391). Members-only sessions were introduced at the annual party conference, to ensure members had a chance to air their views without damaging the party externally. Partnership in power, a series of proposals to change certain organisational structures within the party, devolved policy-making to the National Policy Forum to provide greater consultation with the membership. Nevertheless, party membership slumped from 420,000 after 1997 election to just 320,000 by mid-1999. Many of those who remained were de-energised (Seyd and Whiteley, 1999). This reflects the limited application of marketing to the membership, (Lees-Marshment, 2001a). The foundations of Labour's support have been eroded, making it even more crucial that the party satisfy voters through delivery on public services.
Party Unity: The leadership exerted significant control over the party's participation within the new devolved institutions in the selection of the leadership candidate for the Welsh assembly, which aroused significant discontent among Labour party activists. Another case was the election for the London mayor. After failing to be selected as the Labour candidate, an old left-winger, Ken Livingston, stood as an independent after calls from the public to do so, and won. This was an indication of the discontent at the grassroots of the Labour party: an issue that Labour continues to struggle with, due to its use of political marketing.
Stage 3: Product Adjustment Achievability: Learning in government that delivering on the 1997 pledges, particularly those about the quality of public services, was extremely difficult, the party made promises for the next term of office in terms of inputs rather than outputs, such as ‘x number of nurses or police' rather than reduce waiting list or lower levels of crime. Inputs are easier to deliver because they are easier to control (Lees-Marshment and Laing, 2002:20). The 2001 pledges were:
• Mortgages to be as low as possible, low inflation and sound public finances;
• 10,000 extra teachers and higher standards in secondary schools;
• 20,000 extra nurses and 10,000 extra doctors in a reformed NHS;
• 6,000 extra recruits to raise police numbers to their highest ever level;
• Pensioners' winter fuel payment retained, minimum wage rising to £4.20, and most recently to £5.25 an hour.
Internal reaction analysis: The decline in membership that Labour experienced after 1997 suggests failure of internal reaction analysis. The new system of policy-making was criticised for restricting the opportunity for debate at conference and ignoring the work of policy forums (Seyd, 2002:95). The selection processes used for the Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly and London mayor also indicated a lack of internal reaction analysis and generated further discontent.
Competition analysis: Labour engaged in a significant competition analysis in terms of its planning for the campaign. It was keen that voters would see the election as a choice between the parties rather than a referendum on Labour's mixed record of delivery (Gould, 2002:57, Lawther, 2002:1). Posters reassured voters about the party, saying, ‘Thanks for voting Labour', but also reminding them of potential problems the Conservatives might bring, with posters headed ‘Economic Disaster II).
Support analysis: Labour analysed voters who were former Conservatives that had defected to the party in 1997, and found that this group would stay with the party. Attention then shifted to mobilising people to vote, as the party feared it could lose support due to a low turnout. Labour played on the emotion of fear at a prospective Tory victory, commissioning the famous ‘wiggy' poster of the then leader of the Conservative party, warning ‘Get out and vote or they get in'. It tried to put forward the vision that the work goes on and voters needed to give the party more time.
Stage 4: Implementation
The leader of the Labour party insisted on strict party unity: i.e. all ministers had to agree any interaction with the media and the press office of the Labour party, to ensure unified communication from government. The party's leader had a few difficulties passing legislation. And ambitious MPs knew they had to keep in line with the leadership if they wished to advance their careers. Blair (the leader of the Labour Party) followed the market-oriented party model to fine detail, promoting those who followed the product design and sidelining those who voiced dissent. Nevertheless Labour was criticised for being too ‘Control Conscious'.
Stage 5: Communication
Labour continued to control communication from the party and also central government. The Government Information Service was used to communicate the government's message and delivery (Scammell, 2001). Government spending on advertising increased massively in the four years between 1997 and 2001 (Grice, 2001). Party communication was also focused on delivery: party political broad casts during the elections to the European parliament, for example, focused on the government's achievements, rather than European issues. Communication did not succeed in convincing voters that the government had delivered as initially thought.
Stage 6: Campaign
The character of the party's product and its delivery performance in office determined Labour's campaign. It focused on the need to deliver, asking for more time to do its job. Labour used target marketing and campaigned most heavily in marginal seats where it was assumed that its efforts would have the greatest effect (Cook, 2002:87). In Scotland Labour sent out targeted direct mail in the form of a letter from both the leader of the party and the deputy leader to segments of the market such as Scottish National Party (SNP) floaters, and Labour also ran health rallies and a pledge day to reinforce key themes. The campaign was closely co-ordinated from the party's Millbank headquarters, with an integrated marketing communications structure. Responding to market intelligence, significant effort went into getting the vote out, through ‘Operation Turnout'. This assessed the party identification and voting history of electors in target seats and sent a direct marketing message to them to get them to vote (Lawther, 2002). Nevertheless, the underlying public dissatisfaction with public services was brought to the fore when Blair was accosted by the partner of a patient complaining about the poor standards of care in the NHS in a directly personal, but also televised and therefore highly public manner. This indicated the significant voter dissatisfaction with Labour's performance. Labour was lucky, the Conservative party experienced substantial difficulty in trying to use political marketing, and faced with little alternative the Labour product seemed the best one voters could buy.
Stage 7: Election
The Conservative party would mention this after an evaluation of the use of political marketing. This also applies to Stage 8, delivery, as we already know this cannot be mentioned for the Tories.
The conservative party undoubtly tried to use political marketing during 1997 – 2001. After the party lost so badly in 1997 under John Major, William Hague took over as leader. He set about reforming the party organisation and culture, and adopted key marketing principles, initiating a major market intelligence exercise to connect with the people. At the beginning of his leadership he declared (1998a): ‘The Conservative Party is changing. Changing our institutions and our structures; changing the way we involve our members and changing our culture towards the electorate. We are turning our greatest defeat into our greatest opportunity. We are changing the way we do business. However, he proved to be unable to implement such a change.
Stage 1: Market Intelligence
The Conservative party gathered market intelligence throughout the 1997-2001 period. Nick Sparrow of ICM poll gathered formal intelligence on voters' attitudes towards the party, its leader and the government (Sparrow and Turner 2001). During the formal campaign the party conducted two focus groups per night among possible switchers. In the autumn of 1997, they also launched an exercise called listening to Britain, designed to reach out to voters (Lansley 1999). This consisted of a long series of meetings across the country where MPs listened to discussions on a wide range of topics. A resulting report entitled ‘Listening to Britain (Conservative Party 1999), identified key voter concerns and fed into early policy design.
Stage 2: Product design
Leadership: Between 1997 and 1999 William Hague set the party on a path to produce market-oriented policies and organisation in response to the results from market intelligence. As leader, however, he was an electoral liability. He lacked public standing and continually polled low ratings in relation to the Labour party leader Prime Minister Tony Blair. Hague's leadership was also beset by continual criticism, defections, challenges and disunity.
Internal organisation and constitution: The leader of the Conservative party at the time reformed the Conservative organisational structure to reflect the concerns of members and voters. The party's rules over funding were also revised, responding to voters' concerns about this issue. Market intelligence on the membership led to the introduction of voting rights for individual members, and the membership was also balloted during 1997 – 2001 on several occasions. The organisational part of the product can be said to be market oriented, and laid down the foundations for the emergence of a market orientation in other aspects of the product (Lees-Marshment and Quayle 2001: 204).
Membership: The party adopted direct marketing mail techniques associated with business, using the company Archibald Ingall Stretton (Chambers, 2001). It profiled existing members and then bought membership lists of names for wine clubs, garden centres, rugby etc, for a direct mail recruitment drive. A Conservative network was launched to offer a social and political programme to attract young professionals, and provided training in skills needed for candidates. Conservative Future was created for those members aged 30 and under (Pugh, 2001). However, the membership dropped from the perceived figure of 350,000 in 1997 to the official figure of just 300,000 by the time of the election in 2001. The Tory Party seemed to be in a mixed situation at the time; it needed new members to change its product, but it also needed to change the product in order to attract new members. Organisational changes take very long to fizzle down to the roots.
Candidates: The internal culture of the party also proved a barrier to Hague's intended changes. The leadership attempted to attract candidates more representative of the population: it encouraged associations to select women and ethnic minority candidates. Women candidates were offered help with a ‘mentoring' programme and guidelines on interviewing candidates were widely circulated. Both these initiatives appear to have had little impact. Hague also set up a new Cultural unit to encourage the participation of ethnic minority communities and established a ‘listening link' with ethnic communities and organisations (Mannan, 2001; Norris, 2001).
Policy: Responding to market intelligence, Hague initially attempted to take the party in a new direction on policy, arguing that the party should focus on improving state provision of public services rather than looking to the market and simply reducing taxes. In April 1999, just as the party met to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Mrs. Thatcher's first election victory, the then deputy party leader Peter Lilley delivered a lecture, arguing that, ‘Conservatism is not, never has been and never will be solely about the free market'. The speech was designed to mark the beginning of a new ‘compassionate' Conservatism. However, the speech led to internal rows and Hague began to doubt his market-oriented strategy. In October 1999, the party launched the Common Sense Revolution, with a number of guarantees, responding to market intelligence and the need for achievable promises, such as:
• A parents' guarantee giving them the power to change school management that fails to provide adequate standards.
• A patients' guarantee giving a fixed waiting time based on the need for treatment
• A tax guarantee ensuring that taxes would fall as a share of the nation's income over the term of the next parliament under a Conservative government.
• A ‘can work, must work' guarantee ensuring that benefit claimants who can work would lose their dole if they did not.
• A guarantee that the Tories would oppose entry into the euro at the next general election as part of their manifesto.
These promises responded to the results from market intelligence. They could have built the party's overall reputation for honesty and believability. They were also focused on areas of prime importance to voters. When they were first communicated, press coverage was potentially positive: it was seen as a break with the past, a new way forward. It was even compared to the Labour party's abandonment of Clause IV, when Labour had removed its previous commitment to the workers' owning the means of production, a change away from an ideology-based statement to one that followed the opinion of the electoral market.
By the time of the election, however, the guarantees had all but disappeared, following a period of statements from senior party figures. For example, in February 2000, Hague suggested that the tax guarantee was an aspiration, not a definite promise to reduce tax, and in June 2000, he admitted that many medical conditions would not be covered by the patients guarantee at first. This undermined the party's credibility. Voters were left to wonder where the guarantees had gone. This also undermined Hague's strength and he lost the will to continue to pursue the focus on public services. After this the party shifted its attention to asylum, which was regarded as its core vote. As Kenneth Clark commented, ‘from about half-way through the parliament we stopped trying to broadening our appeal, we narrowed it' (BBC Question Time, July 2001).
The final general election manifesto was called Time for Common Sense (Conservative Party 2001). The main policies emphasised were those on families, pensions, Europe, immigration and Crime. Although it contained policies on education and health, they did not receive the prominence desired by voters.
Stage 3: Product adjustment
Achievability analysis: The Conservative party was handicapped throughout the 1997-2001 election period by its reputation for failed delivery when it was last in government. It then found new promises, the guarantees, were thought to be unachievable. It tried to water the guarantees down but this only served to generate confusion over just what the Conservative product was.
Internal reaction analysis: Organisational reforms were subject to widespread consultation in the Conservative party and carried through with few problems, Lilley's speech was heavily criticised internally by the party. A senior campaign official later admitted that there had been an ‘internal failure of policy clearance'. As the party row ultimately led to the abandonment of a strategy focused on public services, it represented a major barrier to the effective use of political marketing.
Competition analysis: One major criticism of the Tory party in 2001 was that they neglected the issues voters most cared about: health and education. However, the Tories were themselves tarred with the same brush from the pre-1997 period. John Crawford, planner for Yellow M, the Tories' advertising agency, noted that ‘even though Labour were seen to not be as good on health as people thought they might have been pre-1997, I saw a poll on the day, 81% of people thought Labour weren't delivering on health, even then I don't think that the Conservative party felt quite as comfortable as they might have done criticising them about it because our record on health wasn't fantastic either' (Crawford, 2001). Simply ignoring the issues that voters cared most about and hoping it would not matter was not an effective strategy. It did matter; it made the party seem unresponsive and out of touch.
Support analysis: The Tories took this into account, but unfortunately it encouraged the abandonment of a market-oriented approach. Discussions with internal party staff and figures suggest that Hague lost his panache when the party made no progress in the polls. He then changed to a less ambitious strategy of getting core supporters to turn out. (Senior Conservative Official 2001).
Stage 4: Implementation
Implementation is the stage where Hague really fell down. He faced one battle after another in trying to introduce the initial, market-oriented product design. The idea of a market orientation was fully accepted by the central leadership (Peele, 1998:141-143) but was never fully accepted throughout the party. The initial design to focus on public services was heavily criticised internally by staff and politicians. Hague's official reaction was to say he would not change this strategy: ‘I will go thorough any number of arguments, take on anyone in debate, endure any criticisms, do whatever it takes to get across this position on health and education' (Daily Telegraph, 29 April 1999). Overtime, however, declarations focusing on improving the public services were replaced by communications about popular positions on minority issues such as asylum and the euro. The party had not sufficiently adopted a market orientation that would ensure implementation and communication of a product and set of policies designed to suit voter demands.
This can also be seen in the amount of disunity and the number of defections and disunity even at the top levels of the Tory party, such as those of Shaun Woodward in December 1999 and Ivan Masow in August 2000. Kenneth Clark reopened divisions over Europe, appearing on a shared platform with Labour to launch the ‘Britain in Europe' campaign and even stating ‘I'm in favour of joining the single European currency in principle. I don't agree with the party's policy' (Guardian, 5 July 1999). This gave the impression that Hague was not in control and publicly demonstrated the disunity that damaged the product. Additionally, Hague's leadership was criticised by senior Tories including John Major and Kenneth Clark from 1999 to 2001. There was always talk of potential challengers to the leadership, such as Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo, as the general election got closer. Overall, disunity, change of direction, defections and lack of cultural change at lower levels of the party prevented implementation, making communication very difficult.
Stage 5: Communication
Communication became more professional but focused on non-mainstream issues: in his New Year message for 2001, Hague identified tax cuts, crime and Europe as the main political battlegrounds. Furthermore, his speeches on asylum were perceived and portrayed as attacks on refugees, and could be interpreted as racist. The Conservatives also failed to communicate an alternative product to Labour. Criticism of the government was not enough to encourage voters to return to the Tories. The party appointed a little-known Scottish advertising agency, Yellow M, to design its advertising, but communication was generally negative. The party began to keep the pound, which is the old-fashioned mini-campaign, more suited to patriotic Conservatives who would vote for the party anyway. In the summer and autumn of 2000 the party launched one policy initiative after another, but lacked a big idea or theme that would hold them all together. As a senior Conservative official involved stated, ‘we were not devising messages and then crafting them in ways that would appeal to the media'. However, the Tories' failure to persuade journalists and voters had one core cause: the unappealing product that it was trying to sell.
Stage 6: Campaign
As Lansley (2002) noted, the 2001 campaign ‘illustrated forcibly the truth that elections are won and lost over four years, not four weeks'. Division due to failed implementation quickly marred it. The Tories focused on law and order, tax and Europe, one could say that these are not issues voters cared about. This gave the impression of a party that was out of touch. The Conservative party ended the campaign with the same share of the vote as when they started. It was their behaviour, in marketing terms, the product that was the problem.
Stage 7: Election for both Conservative and Labour Parties
The overall election result reflected the way both parties behaved between 1997 and 2001. Labour won a second full term and although its share of the vote fell two points to 42 percent, it lost only seven seats and managed to gain two more. Its second consecutive victory was a landslide, with the party winning 412 seats, giving a majority of 165. Labour gained significant electoral dividends by continuing to use political marketing in office. The Conservatives, however, gained only 32.7% of the vote and one seat. More detailed analysis of the electoral support provides quantitative evidence that Labour responded to voter concerns. When voters were asked to decide which major political party had the better policy on each issue, Labour had a clear lead over the Tory Party. The following table shows this:
Table 5.1 Best party policy on key issues, 2001
‘I am going to read out a list of problems facing Britain today. I would like you to tell me whether you think the Conservative party, the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats has the best policies on each problem'.
Source: MORI Polls, May 2001
The results also reflected the failure of the Conservatives to implement a market-oriented strategy. The British election study (BES) found that a majority of voters did not think that the party would handle the most important issues of health and education well. All polls showed Hague in a poor position when voters were asked who would make the best prime minister, ranging from only 17 to 20 percent were in his support. The Conservatives also lacked governing and delivery competence. Only between 30 and 32 percent of voters believed they were the best party to handle the economy (Gallup poll/Daily Telegraph, 6 June, 2001) and only 9 percent thought the party was the most clear and united about what its policies should be (MORI poll, 15 May 2001, The Times).
Although it is tempting to claim (and indeed was the common view in 2001) that Hague lost because he followed right-wing populist policies, data does not suggest this to have been the main problem. An ICM exit poll indicated that former Tory voters failed to return in 2001 not because the party was too extreme or right wing, but because they felt that the Tories would not improve public services. The Conservatives simply did not offer a viable product that voters wanted to buy. People were dissatisfied with Labour. They were open to the possibility of the Tories: the hostility present in 1997 had gone, but the party failed to produce clear and popular policy responses to the enduring issues of health and education. The party had not adopted a market-orientation approach throughout its organisation and had failed to respond to voters' needs and desires.
Both cases therefore suggest issues for political marketing. The Tory case indicates that it is not enough for a leader to want to use political marketing. Internal aspects got in the way. When interviewed about this, Andrew Lansley (2001) noted saying there was always a sense that the party should be focusing on issues voters were most interested in, but ‘the difficulty was transforming it into practice'. Indeed, both the Labour and Conservative cases suggest that parties need to pay greater attention to Stage 3, ‘product adjustment', to avoid such problems: the internal party democracy and marketing aspects are more important than might first appear. It can be argued that Labour has also neglected their internal supporters and product adjustment, which is an issue for them. Blair's neglect of this stage between 1994 and 1997 may have laid the foundations for some of Labour's problems post-2001. New Labour's support is weak and conditional. This will also make delivery in its second term of office even more crucial. Political marketing, in terms of the market-oriented approach, at first seems at odds with internal democracy, membership, tradition and ideology, but infact they may be an important component of the strategy if it is to be an effective tool.
The use of political marketing by American Political Parties is somewhat unclear. As we have seen from the previous chapters, that the use of political marketing in the UK to determine not just their campaign strategy but also the way they design the political product to be sold, is entrenched within the political parties. The question remains therefore, as to whether American political parties has moved to a similar broad based approach, or continue to be, as they are often epitomized as simply empty vehicles using marketing only to sell a product already designed. Most previous research has only looked at the sales-oriented approaches to political marketing and focus on the campaign.
In their comparison of Tony Blair's ‘New Labour' and Bill Clinton's ‘New Democrats', Ingram and Lees-Marshment (2002) suggested that ‘systemic differences between the two countries, the UK and the US, substantially condition the scope, focus and application of political marketing', and although American campaigns maybe the breeding ground for technological innovation, there is more potential for the use of political marketing in Britain, due to the more centralised nature of political parties and campaigns and to the delivery component the marketing model. It was found that Labour's approach was by far broader in scope, influencing aspects of its policies, personnel, internal organisation, and leadership behaviour. British parties were seen to have more potential to use the market-oriented party model to its full and apply the market-oriented concept to all aspects of the political party including, membership, staff, organisation as well as leader and policies.
The market-oriented party
A Market-oriented party designs its behaviour to suit what voter's want. It uses market intelligence to identify voter demands and preferences, and then attempts to design its product to suit these. In the British context, the ‘product' includes party organisation, staff, membership, symbols, conference, as well as leader and policies. In the US, the concept of party membership is not so relevant given its more amorphous nature. However, political marketing can still be applied to the leadership, policies, and overall theme for the party staff, and maybe applied to the party organisation.
The movement toward Bush and the Republican's adopting a market-oriented design effectively commenced on the night of the 1998-midterm elections. These elections were a sharp rebuke to the GOP's congressional wing, as its leadership at the time pursued the impeachment of the then president, Bill Clinton. In elections to the US House of Representatives, the Democrats actually gained seats, something that the president's party had not accomplished since the Zenith of the New Deal era in 1934. Many in the Republican party at the time blamed its congressional leaders, especially the speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich, and moreover, felt that the more aggressive and confrontational style embodied by congressional Republicans could cost the party the presidency and control of both the US House and US Senate in the 2000 elections. With this background, the then Texan governor, George W. Bush (Jnr), the eldest son of the forty-first president, became the overnight front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. In 1998 Bush's landslide victory was a positive note for the GOP in an otherwise disappointing election night. Running for re-election on a record of tax cuts and educational reform, Bush won re-election with 69 percent of the votes. More importantly than Bush's margin of victory was his impressive performance among groups outside the GOP's traditional white conservative electoral base. For example, according to exit polls Bush received 49 percent of the Hispanic vote and 27 percent of the Black vote, and 31 percent of the vote from Democrats and Liberals. Additionally, Bush received 65 percent of the vote from women, indicating that he could neutralize the ‘gender gap' that had become evident in voting behaviour in the US.
Although not officially announcing his decision to run for the Republican presidential nomination, Bush clearly hinted at his national aspirations and his desire to move the Republican Party back to the political centre by talking in his election night that victory of his appeal as a ‘compassionate conservative'. This turned out to be the theme that remained at the front and central to the Bush campaign in both the primary and general election phases of the 2000 election. In other words it was an attempt to demonstrate to the electorate that Bush was a different type of Republican from the congressional brand that had been the dominant and most visible face of the party since 1994.
Stage 1: Market Intelligence – Understanding the Electorate
George W. Bush was very quickly perceived as the only Republican candidate who could unite the party's economic conservative and social conservative wings as well as appeal to Independents and Democrats. Thus, from the end of 1998 through early 1999, received visits from Republican members of Congress, Governors, State legislators, and others making the case to the then Texan governor, if Bush had not already decided for himself, that he should run for the Republican presidential nomination. Many of the Big state Republican governors, for example, Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania, George Pataki in New York, and Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin were elected and re-elected in Democratic inclined states. Each had been politically successful by emphasising a positive role for government.
Despite compassionate conservatisms vacuous agenda, Bush's famous name and his overwhelming fundraising advantage ensured that he remained well ahead of his rivals in opinion polls following the official announcement of his candidacy in June 1999. His only major rival was Senator John McCain, and this showed during the early stages of his candidacy with respect to market intelligence, that he only partially understood the electorate. Yes, voters wanted something different after the scandals of Bill Clinton. At the same time they wanted something more than an endorsement-laden campaign that was vague on specific issues.
Stage 2: Product Design – Creating the Political Promises
The next stage in the process is to design the political product to suit the results for market intelligence. The product includes the behaviour of the presidential candidate, as well as the party as a whole. This behaviour encompasses many characteristic, is ongoing and offered in the run up to the election, not just the campaign, and potentially at all levels of the party. It includes the presidential candidate (character, experience, skills, and reputation), but also candidates for congress, staff, organisation, symbols, conventions as well as policies and overall theme. All these aspects are considered because they may have influence on the support a party is able to attract from the market. Some may have more influence than others, i.e., the party's presidential in the main product, so the focus is on their character. However, the party's national structure and electoral rules can still affect who is selected as the candidate, and marketing has the potential to influence the general policies put forward at the presidential level.
Stage 3: Product Adjustment
While a market-oriented party will design its product to suit the electorate, it will also adjust the product as it takes into account, the achievability of promises; address internal reaction; adjust to the rival product from opposition; and target specific groups of voters outside of the party's base. The most important part of the Bush's product adjustment, was in responding to Al Gore's campaign. Throughout the 2000 campaign the media had been asked the question as to who the real Al Gore was. As Ceaser and Busch (2001:114) note, there were at least four different phases to the Gore candidacy: Gore the ‘Reformer' (March and April), the ‘Attacker' (May), the ‘Affirmer' (June) and the ‘Populist' (July). The last incarnation, in which Gore tied the Bush – Cheney ticket to big oil, big drug companies, big insurance companies while presenting himself as the populist champion of the ‘working family' moved Gore away from the political centre. This not only allow Bush to occupy the ‘vital centre', but at the same time it allowed him to attack Gore as an ‘Old Democrat' whose big government programs and tax plan showed that he did not trust the people.
Stage 4: Implementation
The product design is implemented through the party. A majority need to accept the new behaviour and comply with this. The party leadership intent on making the organisation market-oriented and several changes will inevitably encounter some hostility and resistance from some within the organisation. The leadership needs to be aware of these potential problems and either take measure to avoid them or be ready to respond to them.
Stage 5 and 6: Communication and Campaign
Stage 5 includes the so-called near or long-term campaign but also on-going behaviour in a run up to a presidential election. Not just the leader, but also any politician in the media spotlight or dealing with their constituents can send a message to the electorate. Attempts are made to ensure all communication helps achieve electoral success and to influence others in the communication process. Stage 6 is the official general election campaign. The election campaign is the final chance of the party to convey its behaviour in a positive way. The party continues to communicate effectively as in Stage 5. The party will appoint a campaign manager who has clear control of the campaign and can communicate with others in the campaign organisation. The party will train and support all campaign workers, to ensure that they possess a clear knowledge of the product or party and can convey this in an intelligible and attractive manner to voters. It will also communicate regularly with candidates for office. Central to communicating with the electorate in presidential elections is the television advertising campaign.
Stage 7: Voter's choose which party to buy – The Election Result.
If the party's political marketing strategy has been successful, the people ‘buy the product' and thus vote for party. A market-oriented party will be better placed to attract support at all phases of the electoral cycle, although the focus remains on the general election because this is the deciding factor in whether the party wins the election. Not just votes, but opinion polls and surveys will provide a measure of voter support for the product on offer.
Did political marketing work for George W. Bush in 2000? While Bush won the White House with a 271 to 266 Electoral College vote over Al Gore, he did lose the popular vote to Gore, 48.4 percent to 47.9 percent.
Stage 8: Stand and deliver – Delivery
The party will have to deliver the promised product once in government. Delivery is crucial to the ultimate success of marketing and therefore political marketing. In politics, if party's fail to deliver on promised policies, voter dissatisfaction is likely to remain. Infact it may increase because voter's where offered what they wanted but did not receive it. A market-oriented party will focus on the need to deliver in order to achieve voter satisfaction.
Evaluating the Bush presidency in this case is difficult in the sense that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11th essentially heralded a new start to the Bush presidency. However, prior to September 11th, Bush's ability to deliver and to govern as a ‘compassionate conservative' was rather mixed.
This paper has looked at the existing literature review covering the use of marketing as a tool by various political parties within the UK and the US. It has talked about the different theoretical concepts of marketing, notably, the process for a market – oriented party, the process for a product –oriented party, and the process for sales – oriented party. We have then used these marketing frameworks to critically evaluate its use by the Labour party during the general election of 1997 to 2001 headed by the prime minister, Tony Blair, and its use by the Conservative Party in the 1997 to 2001 election campaign headed by William Hague. Additionally, we have also analysed its use by the Republican Party under George W. Bush in the presidential elections of the US in 1998.
It will be worthwhile to conclude that although political parties are aware of political marketing, marketing political parties is not easy. Even if parties use this successfully and win control of government, this then leads to the question: what do they do next? The last stage of the process is delivery, and as we can see from the previous chapters, delivery is far from straightforward. Indeed, it is the other big question for the Labour party. This involves other areas of the political system, such as health and education, and the structures of delivery are increasingly important: parliament, the civil service, local government and devolved government all need to work effectively if the market-oriented parties are to achieve success in delivery. There are a lot of intermediaries involved in political delivery. Policy first designed within a market-oriented party then needs to go through Westminster or devolved parliaments, where it is subject to influence by interest groups and charities, other parties, and lawyers developing it into legislation; the civil service, to be implemented; and local government, to be delivered at the local
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