Boris and Ken battle for London mayor shows the way we rate brands in 2012

I’ve just been to vote for the next Mayor of London and, walking down the street, I was thinking about the ‘headline’ views most people will have about the candidates. That turned in to wondering to what extent people in marketing and advertising understand the deeper policy issues of the candidates or to what extent it is bias and perception.

In London there are only two serious candidates – Boris Johnson (Conservatives, left) and Ken Livingstone (Labour) – in terms of voting volume rather than the abilities of the remaining candidates. It is a bit like any brand category, we have the brand leader in Boris with Ken snapping at his heals to regain the leadership with several other brands seeking public support.

Just the same as brands my guess is that a big part of the vote is based on who you like more than the other, what are the specifics that put the cross in one box rather than the other? In grocery retail terms Boris is more Waitrose whereas Ken is more Iceland.

The brand personality of each is a polar opposite so the choice is about personal preference. Boris is younger, posh, funny, a bit of a character, whereas Ken is older, serious, right-on, a bit of a whinger. On a pathethic level I like to listen to Boris speak whereas I find it hard to keep my attention when Ken is speaking because of his voice. Neither point has anything to do with their principles, policies, track record or promises.

My vote has gone to the man I prefer and, if you haven’t guessed so far, it is Boris.

Bring it back to brands and, again, to what extent is personal preference based on personality a driver of choice? Also, to what extent do brand owners think about this question in any kind of depth?

A favourite sector for me is the airline world. From a pure UK perspective, research confirms over and over again that people thinking about booking flights mostly go to their preferred carrier first before they compare prices, times, etc. So if the primary issue is price then people will go to Ryanair and/or easyJet first. We also know many people will book with Ryanair, say, because they believe they will get the best price although that may not be correct. Perception becomes the biggest reality in the heads of many people.

I will never consider Ryanair because I dislike the brand and the experience; in my case perception leads to the brand being rejected before I search for flights. That isn’t a problem for them because they are very successful at what they do but it isn’t for me. As with most markets the airline market is divided in to different segments catering for different requirements – fortunately.

Those of us in the world of marketing and advertising can spend a great deal of time digging in to masses of detail but how often do we stand back from the detail and ask the question ‘do people like us and at what level?’ – take it or leave it through to obsessive loyalty.

Take cars for example. If a range of cars from different manufacturers were lined up, all similar on spec and price and people were asked which one would they choose, the answer must be about brand preference. Yet most manufacturers focus on product detail in their advertising hoping the addition of a gismo will provoke a purchase decision in their favour. Has the gismo the power to overcome brand preference? At times the answer must be yes but, in equal measure, I would suspect choices are driven by brand preference.

As an aside to prove the exception to the above, I think the DDB London work for VW is generally very good, specifically the excellent spot where drivers of other marques keep comparing their car with a Golf.

I jotted this down on the day of the Mayor elections before the results to avoid any criticism of post-rationalisation. I’ll be switching on the TV early tomorrow morning!

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.