As strategists and marketers, we often think about and talk about building enduring brands, brands that grow and fulfill market needs over the long-term. We overlook the fact that brands are being built, shaped and eroded daily in some categories.

No more so than in politics. Political brands, especially the brands of individuals, are volatile, providing an excellent opportunity to analyze the strategies and communication efforts of political brands as they ebb and flow on a daily basis.

While all of Ontario has gone to the polls recently in municipal elections, the City of Toronto has spent more than its fair share of time in the global spotlight in the past few years with all eyes on the behaviour of Toronto’s former mayor, Rob Ford. All politics aside, and putting aside the outcome of the vote on October 27th, this is a no-holds barred look at how the various individual brands performed over the past few months leading up to the election.

Best brand: The Ford family brand

The resiliency of the Ford family brand is legendary. What we learned during this election is that the brand is also incredibly elastic. Think of this: with only one month before going to market, this brand switched the ingredients in the box, but kept the same packaging. And most impressively, the brand saw absolutely no impact on intent to purchase or sales. In fact, most buyers just shrugged and maintained the same opinion and purchase habits. Most brands would kill for that kind of brand strength.


Aspect Grade Comments
Strategy B+
  • The most clearly articulated brand: Respect for taxpayers
  • No innovation compared to last brand launch
  • Suffered from credibility and believability issues compared to the first time this strategy was used
Reasons to believe C+
  • Focused
  • Two dimensional story (efficiency and subways) failed to resonate with non-buyers
Creative execution B
  • Executed a product re-engineering right in the middle of production
  • Strong appeal to existing buyers
  • No effort to appeal to non-buyers
Overall B
  • An impressive effort from a clearly defined brand
  • Sales success impacted by lack of brand relevance


‘Meh’ brand: The John Tory brand

This brand team had a mixed bag of assets to work with. A history of being good for the B2B market, but not necessarily B2C, a few failed consumer launch attempts and a tendency to shift priorities around a lot. Not an easy assignment for any brand manager. However, they worked with what they had, manufactured a compelling proof point or two and sailed to #1 in the category. They will likely remain there for the next few years, barring any major product recalls.

Aspect Grade Comments
Strategy C+
  • The least clearly defined brand in the category: Sensible but not that other low-cost brand
  • Played to strengths and discounted weaknesses
Reasons to believe A+
  • One proof point might have driven sales to #1: SmartTrack
  • Strong sales force that executed well
Creative execution B
  • Customer experience with this brand was consistent but unspectacular
  • Best job of positioning this brand as a replacement for current brand
Overall B-
  • Success as a business, despite a soft brand


Worst brand: The Olivia Chow brand

Olivia Chow was the market leader a few months ago. She had everything a brand could want: A genuine, emotive backstory, proven pedigree, meaningful endorsements from celebrities and a direct emotional connection to buyers. Her market share was the highest in the spring of 2014. So what happened? How did this brand blow it? It started with the product itself: better in the boardroom then in the aisle. Then, this brand failed to articulate what it stood for, what unique new benefits it would provide buyers and lacked any tangible proof points at all. A recipe for a free fall.


Aspect Grade Comments
Strategy C-
  • The most differentiated strategy compared to the two other brands for sale
  • Not well articulated to buyers, in print or in person
Reasons to believe F
  • The customer experience with the brand was bland and mushy
  • No compelling proof points that buyers could understand as meaningful
  • Only able to get one, non-relevant, proof point (more bus service) to stick with potential buyers
Creative execution F
  • Effort to differentiate against market leader failed to resonate
  • No explanation for lack of strategy shift or additional marketing investment when sales were dropping
Overall F
  • This brand will be delisted soon

Sales update: how did buyers behave?

The polls are in and John Tory takes the prize. In spite of a middling brand, his message motivated enough people to buy. Clearly it takes more than the strongest brand to lead Toronto. The Ford family brand escapes intact and will live to fight another day. The Olivia Chow brand will have to redefine itself and find a way to move forward after this humbling result. Watch for a brand reinvention and return in another aisle.

This article isn’t complete, it needs your thoughts!

Share your thoughts and opinions on Twitter with hashtag #electionbrands.

And remember, this is a brand management discussion, not a political one.


Michael Szego, Managing Director, The Scout Innovation Network

The Scout Innovation Network is a strategic and creative consultancy focusing on brand and communication planning, innovation and emerging companies and customer experience design. The Scout works with leading organizations and brands to make their offerings more relevant, more valuable and more interesting. Follow Michael on the Twitter at @mszego

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