'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Saturday 18 June 2011

I don't care if you think Nick Clegg is a skunk or a squid. However, I am faintly bothered why you think it.

Having worked in advertising, branding and marketing for more years than I care to count, I am well placed to state that you do hear a lot of old, ahem, nonsense spouted in my business. I am fortunate enough to be in a position to be able to shout 'you've got no clothes on', Emperors-New-Clothes-style, whenever I hear it nowadays. And I say it quite a lot. But I also hope that just once in a while I can spot the glint of gold when it crops up.

Fortunately, the world and his wife also delights in exposing our nonsense when they see it. Hence the widespread pointing and laughing at the 'Gordon Browns a Volvo, David Cameron's a BMW' elements to the anti Blair putsch in 2005/6 by the Brownites. And at face value, this is fair enough. As Mark Ritson puts it, in a rather good piece last week, (be warned it contains a Nick Clegg dig...)

'Many modern marketers misunderstand projection. They ask consumers: "If our brand was an animal what kind of animal would it be?" and then dutifully report back that 22% of consumers think we are a squid while 14% believed we were a tiger. This is not projection, this is being a moron.'

However, there is an inkling of sense in projection. As the important thing about it is not what people say - but why they say it. Why do they think David Cameron is a BMW, a spritzer or a big cat, whereas Brown was a Volvo, glass of whisky or a bear? And having worked out why, then do something about it. Again, to quote Ritson,

' these projections were used as a starting point for the discussion that followed. And it was here that Project Volvo laid out the problems ahead for Brown and his election campaign.

The PowerPoint slides of Project Volvo lay out an even more barren assessment of Brand Brown - one dimensional, few interests outside work, uncomfortable communicator and untidy appearance. The honest and unspun perceptions that helped Brown to supplant an increasingly unpopular Tony Blair were predicted to fall short against Cameron, who was widely seen by the sample as youthful, in touch and likeable.

And here we should pause to reflect on the power of projective research. These observations might seem obvious now, but Project Volvo was completed in February 2006 - half a decade ago. And yet the prescription was, unfortunately for Labour, bang on the money.'

So we need to know know, not just what personalities the electorate project on to our leaders - and especially Nick. We need to know why they do it.

And then we need to know what to do about it. Because in the Brownites case, they got the analysis right, they got the problems, right - but they got the solution to the problems very badly wrong. As I'll discuss tomorrow.


If you've read all this, checked out Mark Ritson's piece, and still think the whole things rubbish (and you won't be alone) - then do pop over and visit 'The Ad Contrarian', a brilliant blog that delights in pointing out all the nonsense that goes on in my business, in an erudite, highly intelligent and extremely readable way. I love it.


  1. I thought Nick was more of a Audi/Lion sort, then I met him and realised he's more Robin Reliant/Skunk. As to why it happens, that's simple - we project comparisons on to people because analogy is central to cognition; you do this all the time, for all sorts of things and it's a key trait of learning.

  2. Thanks - yes, you're right about the learning thing. Have a look at the blog later today as today's post is to how we should act on projection.

  3. I'll check it out; I believe the central issue in that problem is that internal analogies are personal abstractions, held in place only by internal (non-verified) language/association and constitute the dictionary of the speaker. For example, in my Nick analogy, I externalised using common analogies, rather than using something more personal to me, because those analogies wouldn't communicate well externally. As such, there's clear evidence for us utilising common analogies as analogies for our real internal analogies, and that gives us the structure that you're calling "projection" (which is itself a Freudian analogy - nobody understood this usage of the word until it was redefined using a behavioural analogy). As such, these "projections" aren't projections at all, they're shadows cast by internal analogy - they don't show the detail of the original analogies, only the outline of it - they are approximate/analogous shapes - calling Clegg a skunk doesn't give us any information as to what I disliked about him; in fact, I'm pretty certain that the one thing I'm sure I didn't find unpleasant about him was his smell. Yet despite this, some of these analogies still seem to hold, and that's because they're part of a broader analogous framework and represent something of the form of the original idea.

    I believe that ideas such as projection are poor analogies from a long time ago that obscure the reality of a much more interesting linguistic process. Also, the meaning and (re)definitions are completely different, and if you actually mean to use the word "projection" in the Freudian sense then you're making a very complex (and nearly certainly erroneous) judgement regarding the electorate/human behaviour.

    Bigup the Rumelhart/Gentner/Hofstadter crew.