To be more than a short term fad a politician needs genuine respect – Johnson fails the test.

In 2006 the CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, Kevin Roberts, published an original analysis of buyer behaviour in respect of brand choice – “Lovemarks”. The title referred to brands which transcended rational choice and generated such preference that they had become “loved”. They didn’t have to be loved by everyone just by enough in the target group to be dominant. The classic, almost clichéd, example is Marmite.

In politics support for an individual who has “Lovemark” status is much more elusive because politicians are much more divisive. In being for something they have also to be against something else. Even if the differences deep down are not that great. Heath and Wilson or Major and Blair were not that different in values if you drilled deep down. But they pretended to be different.

Boris Johnson is, or perhaps aspired to be, a rare “Lovemark” politician. Whereas previous party leaders were often divisive and superficially driven by policy commitment Johnson had never been. But even his flagship “Get Brexit Done” slogan was opportunistic and pragmatic – he could easily have been a Remainer if he had judged that was better for him personally.

Ask people what Boris stands for and you’ll get many blank faces. The wave whose crest he rode on was driven by familiarity, personality, presence and style. People actually bought his brand because they loved it. But in the Age of Covid it looks like charisma isn’t enough when the core of the brand is fraudulent and it is promoted by deception. In the “Lovemark” analysis (see above) Johnson was never quite in the top right quadrant (except for a few ultra-loyalists or lovers ). But he could and did operate successfully high in the bottom right. He was a “Fad” in which people supported him out of a fanatical affection which in many cases trumped their lack of true respect.

That Johnson is a serial liar, adulterer and fraud is hardly a surprise. But he got to 10 Downing Street despite these flaws, even a bit because of them. As Politics Professor Matthew Flinders put it:

Whether hanging from a zip wire, waving Cornish pasties or falling in rivers, he is the ultimate entertainer. To the annoyance of his opponents, the public appear to vote for him not on the basis of his performance or policies but simply because he’s funny.” In short he was clearly a “Fad”.

But once Johnson bulldozed Britain to Brexit the demands of the job changed. A charismatic vote winner who was economical with the actualité was not the man to handle a pandemic in which management competence, openness and truthfulness were more important than entertainment.

Once the affection goes (and it’s slipping away rapidly) then “Low Love” and “Low Respect” beckons. And that’s the loser’s quadrant. The end of the dream.

One thought on “To be more than a short term fad a politician needs genuine respect – Johnson fails the test.

  1. I can never recall such a time that British politics became such an appalling dog’s breakfast as the nation currently suffers. May it all end soon. Low respect could not sink much lower.


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