A big part of any successful government is how well it communicates its plans and ideas with the voting public. So how has this federal budget measured up from a branding perspective? Peter Holmes is president and creative director at Toronto’s Reason Partners, an advertising and marketing firm that has worked on everything from consumer goods and financial services to political campaigns, including the Conservative Party’s 2008 election campaign. I spoke with Holmes about the communication strategy behind this budget and how the government can use branding to sell its policy.
Canadian Business: What do you think of the government’s communication strategy for this budget?
Peter Holmes: They weren’t going to veer away from the previous budget and had they done that they probably would’ve had less support from the public. It seems to be a pretty pragmatic approach. I don’t think now that they have a majority they’re going to all of a sudden rock the boat with Conservative principles, which could mean any number of things in terms of cost-cutting and other policies.
CB: How should the government talk about the tougher issues touched on in this budget, such as cost cutting, in the coming years?
PH: Because this budget isn’t all that different and, consequently, not all that exciting or controversial, it’s better that they’re playing it down and not really promoting or selling it that hard. Now, in the future, if they are appealing to their base, in terms of certain conservative fiscal principles, they are going to have to really explain the moves and why it’s good for Canada. Some things, like immigration reform if the new Fraser Institute report is to be believed, are touchy areas that really require some pretty good strategic thought in terms of communication strategy.
What they need to do is create a greater prosperity vision for Canada, and in order to fulfil this vision there are these measures that need to be taken, whether it’s cost cutting or whatever. It’s about selling these within that vision, making the more difficult measures easier to swallow. And by vision I don’t mean ambiguous platitudes, I mean an actual vision with specific goals in which the budget will play a significant role.
CB: What branding strategies translate from consumer products to politics and what doesn’t?
PH: In terms of where the two differ, political advertising is done often in real time, especially when you’re campaigning. Generally, the principles of branding are still important, in terms of clear and concise differentiation. A lack of that was a big part of the Liberal disaster in this past election.