Whatever we made of Boris Johnson, he was – if nothing else – a master of branding.
Alongside “Make America Great Again”, the likes of “Get Brexit Done” and “Levelling Up” remain among the most potent and memorable political slogans of our age, providing instant recall to a particular sentiment. They’re short, direct. As Ronald Reagan said of political messaging: if you’re explaining, you’re losing.
At their best, snappy political lines can be clear distillations of big ideas. At their worst, they’re over-simplifications. Either way, they were a winning formula for Johnson, bagging him two mayoral elections and – as he likes to remind us – 14 million votes at a general election.
And of course, Johnson’s manipulative brand extends beyond these slogans. It’s the carefully tousled hair, the classical vocabulary and the jocular demeanour that he fomented on the likes of Have I Got News For You?
So what went wrong? Obviously, there’s the seedy culture and string of scandals. But really, those revelations were just the catalyst for people looking beyond the glitz and promise of those flashy slogans and finding them without substance.
It’s the same with brands. Each year, we see what happens when companies with dodgy credentials greenwash or rainbow-wash their messaging.
Take mega-brands like Adidas and Coca-Cola, accused of hypocrisy for draping themselves in rainbow colours while sponsoring the FIFA World Cup, hosted in Qatar where homosexuality is illegal. By contrast, some companies this year have put their money where their mouth is, e.g. Aesop funding the Aesop Queer Library and Tinder helping to protest against America’s ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
Smart branding is great but if it’s based on bullshit, you’ll go the way of Johnson.