Pavlov politieke merken

Political brands no longer have an ideological narrative

The political parties – and thus their political brands – in our country are finding it difficult to distinguish themselves in a landscape shaken by corona and divided by voters. The traditional ideological bastions with their easy-to-define goals and vision are increasingly losing a clear face, and with it, time and again, percentages in the polls and elections. The electoral chaos is gradually becoming complete as the months tick away towards the 2024 elections, with populism almost naturally lurking with wet lips.

Who can blame the voter for no longer seeing the wood for the trees?

Who can blame the voter for no longer seeing the wood for the trees? Where it used to be crystal clear what parties stood for and what line they would take if they were to receive the voter’s trust, today this is a lot harder to discern. As citizens, we hear Groen politicians arguing for polluting gas plants, OpenVLD ministers for freedom-restricting and privacy-infringing measures and the chairman of socialist Vooruit for a stricter approach to the unemployed and newcomers who do not speak Dutch. Each time, political manoeuvres and decisions made over the heads of the citizens lead to a situation where they are left scratching their heads in despair at a spectacle that hits them without any rhyme or reason.

We live in a country with a liberal prime minister, incidentally supplied by the seventh party in government, but there is little sign of liberal policies for many blue voters. At the same time, Trends this week widely headlines “the last liberal” on its cover, to peddle an interview with MR chairman Bouchez. In Flanders, the same Bouchez gets flowers thrown at him by (nevertheless cold-hearted lover) Bart De Wever, and in government circles he has to swallow the accusation that he is leading opposition from within the government. He himself blames it on the fact that, as party leader, he at least sticks to a clear ideological line. So, of all the blue elected officials in our country, only Bouchez is still considered a true liberal in public opinion, just because he keeps proclaiming his liberal views against the tendencies of the theatre in Rue de la Loi.

All this does not help parties tell a clear story. Indeed, from a brand strategy point of view, good brands are those with a simple story. After all, simplicity helps messages to be remembered and encourages ambassadorship among target audiences. It is no wonder that despite their complexity, the world’s strongest brands can be summed up in a clear claim, a slogan or an easily recognisable and verifiable promise. In our political system, some occasional left-right divisions can still be detected, but other than that, it mostly seems like hopping from issue to issue without a binding ideological line to fall back on.

Most parties obviously sense this as well, along with the hot breath on the neck of competing parties that know how to present themselves just a little more credibly to citizens on similar topics. It is therefore no coincidence that CD&V, with its Power ON renewal congress, tried to bring some clarity back into the dull grey mire of positions and ideas. Nor is it an illogical move that a social-media-raised Conner Rousseau announced a rebranding of the completely dusted-out SP.A shortly after his appointment as party leader. Even what remains of the once-dominant OpenVLD from the Verhofstadt era seized the celebration around ‘175 years of the Liberal Party in Belgium’ to fraternise with the blue colleagues from the south of our country in an attempt to look for a renewed relevance as an alternative to the pale blue decoction their voters are confronted with anno 2022.

The only way for these classic ideological bastions to regain a relevant role is to lay out a clear ideological vision that is recognisable and resonates with their constituencies.

The only way for these classic ideological bastions to regain a relevant role with their respective audiences is to lay out a clear ideological vision that is recognisable and resonates with their constituencies, rather than trying day after day to sell a broad story to as many people as possible. That vision, as mentioned, must be simple and clear, without fear of the next poll or without flipping on issues or nuancing statements with every critical tweet.

Populist competitors like Vlaams Belang and PvdA may have the luxury of the opposition role to tell a clear story, but at least they are consistent in their themes and positions – with growing success as a result. Sadly, the same cannot be said today for the majority parties, which these days even manage to blow both hot and cold at the same time in the space of a day. As long as liberals, socialists, greens and christian democrats do not manage internally to get their noses in the same, easily marketable direction and leave day-to-day politics behind, electoral results will also continue to disappoint and further fuel fragmentation. It is time to define a clear ideological line and stick to it more consistently if they still want to save what can be saved for their political brands.