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UK Insights

Political Archetypes Battle It Out

William Landell Mills

Global Qualitative Director

GE 31.05.2017 / 13:00

car manufacture

A Kantar TNS view on the 2017 General Election

Like consumer brands, political leaders connect to people at an unconscious level. Take for example “The Hero”. Tough and commanding, this archetype is embodied by Winston Churchill but also Land Rover. In contrast “The Peacemaker”, characterised as patient and humble – think Nelson Mandela or Dove beauty products. And then there’s “The Visionary”, illustrated by the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr, but also Innocent Drinks.

The emotional resonance of archetypes depends on people’s needs in a given social and political context. So a political leader’s charismatic appeal rests on the requirements of the current social environment. 


Pic 1_Needscope


With the General Election looming, we applied the same critical thinking we use every day in our global brand and communications work to the candidates for Number 10.

NeedScope is a brand and communication research tool. We typically use NeedScope to help consumer brand owners understand and measure the emotion driving brand choice. Its unique models unlock needs and brand image to help build irresistible brands that drive strategic and competitive advantage.

When combative, people need assertiveness (on the right of the chart); when conciliatory, they need affiliation (on the left). If they’re confident, they move to the top of the chart, and when insecure, they move towards the bottom. For context, consider some of the recent top Conservatives of recent memory and the periods when they emerged. Margaret Thatcher could be styled as “The Hero”, John Major as “The Regular Guy”, with Boris Johnson “The Jester”.


Pic 2_Needscope


Our analysis according to archetypes

So how are the leading candidates positioned in the minds of voters? Theresa May is a complicated one: Really she’s “The Strategist” but styles herself as “The Ruler”. She’s persistent, patient and disciplined, traits that helped her become the undisputed leader of the Conservative Party. Her record-breaking stint at the Home Office – the graveyard of many a political career – owes much to her absolute mastery of detail. Think of her as the Audi A3 ¬– precise and controlled.

Strategists like May take time to come to a view, but once they’ve calculated the odds, they’re not shy of drama. We’ve seen this in her bid for the leadership, her ditching of her Remain position and the calling of a snap election. Her promise of “strong and stable” leadership sounds like a typical Ruler, but is mainly a bid to contrast her competence with the so-called incompetence of Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn himself is another complex case. In effect, he’s a bit of a mixed message, straddling two very different archetypes: “The Rebel” and “The Guardian”. Corbyn’s image is vivid but not strong. Successful brands adhere to a single archetype, and in this regard he fails.

As a classic Rebel, he’s a risk taker who has consistently defied the Labour whip and engaged with Chavez, Hamas and the IRA. He is anti-establishment, viewing it as self-seeking and corrupt. But he is no firebrand. He is typically English: he has an allotment, and owns a cat. He is famously polite and nobody doubts his commitment to helping the weakest. So he actually channels a very different archetype – that of the empathetic and caring Guardian.

While some find aspects of his persona very attractive, the tension between the two archetypes is disconcerting. It not only suggests instability and weakness, but Corbyn’s two archetypes actually neutralise each other. If Corbyn were a brand, he’d be a cross between the safe Volvo C70 and Citreon 2CV; forward thinking for its time, but not so much now! To succeed against an opponent like Theresa May, he needs to dial up his Guardianship or vigorously modernise his Rebel side.

Nicola Sturgeon is largely defined by her call for a referendum on Scottish independence, indicating a feisty and strong-willed character not afraid of fundamental political change. Think of her as a new incarnation of “The Hero” – this one in the image of Braveheart. Constantly hammering home the message of Scottish independence marks her out as a determined fighter, unafraid of disruption. Conversely her opponents would describe her as impatient, controversial and dangerous. As a consumer brand, she’d be a Jeep Patriot – determined, assertive and strong-willed.

Finally we have Tim Farron, “The Regular Guy” in irregular times. He is seen as a unassuming man of progressive and inclusive views – a nice guy who doesn’t really stand out. He lacks physical presence, noteworthy delivery, or sound bites. While his party is the only main party to reject Brexit, he hasn’t spearheaded popular outrage against it. In brand terms Farron is a Renault Megane – approachable, warm and everyday.

His most positive characteristic is his unpretentiousness and understanding of everyday life. But the shadow side of the Regular Guy archetype is that he is a non-entity. Given the combative public mood, his understated mode of leadership can look like weakness, especially when compared to the stridency of others.

What this means for 2017

The Conservative’s early leadership in the polls is, in large part, down to Theresa May’s personal standing. Using archetypes we can see quite clearly why she resonates with voters. . In this time of combative public mood she couldn’t have wished for a better set of adversaries. With the exception of Nicola Sturgeon, they all serve to underline her merits. Regular Guy Farron’s conciliatory manner can seem lacklustre while Theresa appears clear and steadfast. Corybn’s cocktail of Rebel and Guardian works for some, but at the broader level defines him as indecisive.

Calculated risk taker Theresa May, promises competent leadership that’s clearly relevant right now. There is a gap between the portrayal of a Ruler and the reality of her identity as a Strategist. She’s not as confident as she’s made out to be; yet for now she has little to fear. She’s done her analysis, made her calculations and there’s not much her opponents can do to touch her.

Source : Kantar TNS

Editor's Notes

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