Brand politic: Can Labor’s brand rebound from its recent battering?

I’ve been asked by a number of people what my “brand” take on the Labor Party shenanigans is.

I’ll start by saying I’m an interested observer of politics, but by no means am I a political commentator (shudder). And since returning to Oz from the US I’ve been, by turn, bemused, dismayed and occasionally entertained by the goings on of both our political parties and a howlingly insatiable and complicit media.

But that said, I am not sure it’s even possible to discuss political parties in a regular brand context. They are both more and less brand-driven than other organisations.

More brand-driven because you are talking about multi-generational support and affinity that comes often in spite of what they do (something most organisations would dearly love to have).

Less because the shaping factors that build public perception are far more complicated than in a regular organisational context – what company would survive the ready scrutiny of weekly polls and 24/7 dissection of every decision (although that mightn’t be the worst idea).

The usual definition of brand that you’ve got to “keep your promises” is far more complicated for political parties.

Even the most seemingly insignificant policy decision is a labyrinth of interconnecting issues; changing local, national and international circumstances that renders quaint the idea you should do what you say you will no matter what (lest you be beaten over the head with your altered position for the rest of your time in office).

As with anything brand, I think a good place to start to understand the current state of affairs is to look to the roots and history of the organisation.

The Labor Party effectively began with colonial parties founded in the 1890s prior to federation. The federal parliamentary Labor Party and the beginning of the Labor “brand” as we know came in 1901. And despite common perception being that Labor was formed solely from out of the trade union movement, early caucus comprised of a mix of blue collar workers, a squatter, a doctor, and even a mine owner.

Throughout the history of the party it has survived both because and despite the personal and personality of leaders that have loomed large. So I find myself quite bemused by those who would seek to elevate the current goings on as a game changer.

If you remove the politics of personality and gender from the equation (hard, yes, but stay with me), you can dip into the past and find numerous times where the cries of mass indignation and calls of imminent demise resounded.

For example, the leadership stoush between Hawke and Keating. Or step further back to the party’s years in the political wilderness and out of power during the 1930s. Go further back to the roots of the party when the first Labor leader and prime minister, Chris Watson, went against many in his party to support federation.

As with other organisation brands, the Labor Party is much more than the actions of its CEO. It has the currency of 100+ years to trade on and while it can’t draw on that endlessly, history shows the reserves can be rebuilt through “good times”.

People have a remarkable capacity to forgive and put aside personal affront when their ideology and self-interest is involved. Rarely is that more on display than in the political landscape and its annex of the court of public opinion.

I guess time will tell if it is once again true. How much time will be a function of what Labor does from here forward…

(Note: Brands That I Like will run next week and return to its usual slot of first Tuesday of the month in August.)

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at


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