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banner Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK
It's all about branding
The crucial part played by the "branding" of political parties and their leaders during the last election was highlighted at a fringe meeting organised by the Advertising Association.

According to Robert Bean, chairman of the banc agency, branding has now become the single most important communications force in commerce and politics.

And, he claimed, his poster campaign for the Liberal Democrats had a simple yet effective message - to introduce the relatively unknown leader Charles Kennedy to voters and brand him as a "normal and honest" man.

Mr Bean, who has proved as important to the Lib Dems as Tim Bell was to Margaret Thatcher's Tories, claimed voters were already positively disposed to a leader like Mr Kennedy.

His task, he said, had been to: "take this unknown character called Kennedy who appeared to be normal and honest - all the things that the public wanted", and project that image.

"There was the increasing feeling that people were fed up with mud slinging and yah boo-to-you politics," he said.

Real change

The result was to launch an advertising campaign based around the slogan "a real chance for real change" that played to Mr Kennedy's strengths while focussing on his core beliefs about protecting public services.

And it kicked off with a poster picturing a stern looking Mr Kennedy and the slogan "I jump on injustice not on bandwagons".

"It seemed to sum up what he stands for. People were very positively disposed towards the party but there was this bridge they had to cross to support it," he said.

It is generally accepted that Mr Kennedy had by far the most straightforward and successful election campaign of all the party leaders.

His relaxed, principled image appeared to chime with voters and was put at the centre of the advertising - or branding - campaign.

And, once again, the battle of the posters played a crucial part in the entire campaign.

Be afraid

Labour had their picture of William Hague in a Margaret Thatcher wig with the slogan: "be afraid, be very afraid".

And the Tories had their series of posters declaring that, under Labour, "you have paid the tax, so where are the teachers, police, etc."

But the Lib Dems deliberately tried to cut through the "slick" campaigning and concentrate on the real issues they believed were worrying ordinary voters.

The political editor of the Guardian, Michael White, agreed the Lib Dem campaign had been effective in portraying Mr Kennedy as a "regular bloke".

But he also claimed the Tory poster campaign had been hard hitting and only let down by the fact there were no polices to back it up.

And he claimed there had been a suggestion throughout the Lib Dem campaign that the party was to the left of Labour - something Mr Kennedy has always denied.

"The whole implication of those ads instilled a subliminal message that what the leadership was doing was to the left of Labour and they picked up a lot of disaffected Labour votes as a result," he said.

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