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Brand and Brands: What Politicians Have to Learn From Russell, And Free Market Capitalism

10/28/2013 01:36 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

British actor Russell Brand's now viral interview with the BBC's Jeremy Paxman is, for me at least, broadly a series of inconsistent, muddled appeals for a utopian, socialist revolution, the vision and mechanics of which he was unable to articulate.

It is not, as the overexcitable have labeled it on social media, 'genius'. In fact, the actor's naivety would likely embarrass the average twelfth grader.

However, Brand is spot on in his reference to the:

"absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class, that has been going on for generations now."

This is as least as true here in the United States as it is in the old country, where both Brand and I hail from.

For their part, politicians bemoan the lack of 'engagement' by young people in politics. In and of itself, this is laughable. The collective hand-wringing and soul searching of the political and governmental classes on this topic has fostered efforts to examine every possible cause of this generational disengagement -- but usually ends, one way or another, in it being somehow the 'fault' of the young.

This is absurd.

I have just spent the last few days at the 9th Annual Forbes CMO Summit here in Miami, and have been privileged to hear some of the world's most experienced and senior marketers talk about their business and brands, and how they take them to consumers.

If, at any stage, they had sought to attribute any lack of engagement in their products and services as the fault of their prospective customers, they would, quite rightly, have been booed off the stage. Marketers know, in a way that their behavior at least suggests that politicians do not, that young people have never been more engaged.

Empowered by the infinite resources of the internet and the technology to share and exchange those resources at minimal cost, the market for something in which to believe has never been stronger. Indeed the buzzwords of this week's conference have been 'purpose' and 'authenticity'.

When did you last hear a politician talk with either purpose or authenticity, let alone both? Instead, they continue to trot out the same pompous, top-down, duplicitous, jargon-laden, deeply patronizing gobbledygook that no one in the real world would ever dream of getting away with. And yet they blame the young when they refuse to buy it.

It is simply not credible.

If you have a message that you need to convey, it is your job to communicate that message in a style and format that will resonate with those to whom you are trying to speak. And in this respect, there is absolutely no difference between politics and business.

Except that business does it much, much better. It has to, because, in a free market, where brands jostle constantly for share of mind and share of wallet, there is no alternative.

And this of course points to another challenge. In the UK, the otherwise sophisticated consumer who makes hundreds of choices each week, who is constantly triaging preferences amongst products and brands, is presented with a choice of just three when it comes to political creeds.
In the U.S., the very heartland of freedom and choice, this is reduced to just two.

It's the political equivalent of the old airline question: 'chicken or fish?', and it's delivered in no less a weary, disinterested monotone.

If politicians were genuinely serious about engaging the young and disenfranchised, they could do significantly worse than learn from the folk who are out there, every day, at the coal face, developing new products and services to cater for the changing needs of ever more choosy consumers, working hard in an increasingly noisy world to win hearts and minds, and doing so humbly.

Russell Brand's clarion call to address the 'absolute indifference' felt by millions of people towards their political classes, will not be fixed by him and his crackpot theories.

But it might just by his namesakes.