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'We do have the power of rational thought'
Posted April 2, 2019
Successful branding wins loyalty and provides short cuts for our brains. A good brand helps us remember not only products but policies as well.
Branding is not only important for marketers who compete for consumers' dollars, it is very important for political parties who compete to form government. Conservative parties tend to excel at labeling and branding. They self-brand as the party of freedom, individualism, fiscal responsibility and choice (though not for women). They brand their opponents as tax and spend liberals, among other falsehoods.
All of this branding is market tested and carefully chosen. Easy-to-remember branding together with constant repetition act like a battering ram against rational thought. Nick Everhart, a member of the Strategy Group for the Tea Party in the United States once commented, "We've trained our base to only respond to very specific messaging. We've fine-tuned what these people need to hear." Human beings become useful sheep bleating out the latest chant while the shepherds gain access to high office where they can pass policies that do the sheep no good at all, while they themselves get busy lining their own pockets.
Branding appeals to our emotions and does not require we do the hard work of thinking, researching, and weighing arguments and factual evidence. Appeals to our emotions are very powerful tools, but if we prefer not to be treated like sheep by cynical politicians we do have the power of rational thought. Having self-respect requires we put our brains to work.
When you look at Conservative branding you don't see much that stands up to careful scrutiny. What does freedom mean for most people? Do only Conservatives believe in freedom? All of us agree that individual responsibility is an important component of a successful and prosperous life. How is it that Conservatives claim exclusive branding rights over it? Conservatives have made careers out of whining about deficits and debt and claiming they are the party who will look after taxpayers dollars responsibly. When you look at the facts, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The Ford government is the most recent example.
Ford fired the CEO of Hydro One whom he called "the $6 million dollar man." This move cost Ontario taxpayers $138 million in sunk costs due to the cancellation of the Hydro One bid to take over the American company Avista. U.S. regulators cancelled the deal, citing political interference by the Ford government. The cancellation of the almost finished $100 million German company in Prince Edward county will cost more money when the company takes its complaint to the World Trade Organization. As well, the cancellation of 758 renewable electricity contracts will cost taxpayers more millions. Costs in litigation are adding up. The Ford government is currently facing almost a dozen lawsuits from various groups. His futile plan to sue the federal government over the carbon tax will cost the people of Ontario $30 million. It will not succeed but Ford is going ahead with it anyway. His tv advertisements attacking the federal government are also coming out of taxpayers' pockets.
Cancelling contracts entered into in good faith by previous governments is not only costly, it also damages our reputation as a good place for investment from companies around the world. So much for Ford's "Open for Business" branding. "Fiscal responsibility"? Careful management of taxpayer dollars? Only in their advertisements. I can't help getting a dig in here about how much Conservatives gnashed their teeth and cried shame over McGuinty's cancellation of two gas plants in 2010. That cost us $2 million over 20 years which pales in comparison to the costs Ford will incur for all these cancellations. And we never heard the end of it from Conservative voters. Hypocrisy at work, pure and simple.
The label "tax and spend liberals" is a perfect example of how branding circumvents our ability to think rationally. All governments tax. All governments then spend those tax dollars on the services governments provide. The difference between the parties lies in what they choose to fund. Priorities between different parties vary but one thing that doesn't vary is that all of them tax citizens and then spend those tax dollars.
Most of the people I meet are not particularly interested in politics. When the election cycle comes along, they look up and some will actually look at a party's platform to make a decision. But because branding makes thinking unnecessary and because people are so busy and so caught up in their own lives, Conservatives and their misleading but effective branding gain the edge.
Barbara Delargy is a retired English teacher currently living near Everett. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org