POLITICS : After the Makeover Queen; Political parties,CO Brands Are Defined by Their Leaders. Can John Key Build a Brand as Strong as the Helen Clark Makeover

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Byline: Colin James

In 1996 Helen Clark got a big hairdo and flash make-up and went public with this near-unrecognisable persona. It was the boldest cosmetic rebranding since Bob Harvey remodelled Norman Kirk in 1972 from greasy slob to greying statesman.

Julia Gillard had a cosmetic remake, for a womenCOs magazine, as a campaign manoeuvre in AustraliaCOs election last month. As the polls plunged she then proclaimed that she was going back to the Cyreal JuliaCO.

These pirouettes state a fact of modern politics: the leaderCOs brand is a critical, near-defining, element of the party brand. It is John Key versus Phil Goff as much as National versus Labour. The same goes for Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples and the Maori party and Rodney Hide and ACT.

The Greens, who have an enduring brand embedded in the environment, are the exception. The party brands its leaders more than the leaders brand the party.

Leaders got into the branding because parties went marketing. They did that as the old-class loyalties frayed in the more diverse society and economy that developed from the 1960s. Marketers Co which necessarily include the leaders Co swapped ideology based on class interest for CyvaluesCO. Helen Clark ran CyvaluesCO against KeyCOs CyfreshCO in 2008.

Marketing has not generated homogenised messages, despite the Labour-lite media tag on KeyCOs National by opponents Co and some supporters. To win the 40 percent a big party needs to govern, the leader brand must be a credible fit with deep public assumptions about the party, in other words the partyCOs enduring underlying brand.

A leaderCOs values must resonate with those of the partyCOs core vote, which can vary from suburb to suburb. ClarkCOs social legislation (civil unions, prostitution reform, the whacking ban) estranged swathes of suburban males in 2008 who otherwise agreed with Labour on core economic policy.

National inked in the divider at its conference in July, with a raft of workplace law changes. National sees wages essentially as a cost. Labour sees wages essentially as sustenance. …