Last updated: Fit for Engagement: U.S. election fever and the authenticity of spin

Fit for Engagement: U.S. election fever and the authenticity of spin


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Something has happened in politics. It looks like the small man has grown. Fed up with the 1% and the oligarchs taking ever bigger pieces of pie, riding a swell of disenchantment at banks “too big to fail,” a new personality is taking to the stage. As Mark Twain once said: “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

The overly-groomed, identikit suits who – regardless of party – all seem to have been produced by the same factory suddenly have serious competition. Bernie Sanders in the US, and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. They might not be classically electable in the Fox News style of scoring cheap points by bashing opponents, but they are gathering huge amounts of good will by being real and focusing on the issues.

Now, I know better than to get stuck into politics online – I’ve no particular drum to bang (or axe to grind) on that – but I do think it’s important to take stock of the fact that, like them or not, they seem to have galvanized real support. And the reason for this is that they aren’t playing the same rules as everyone else.

Hillary Clinton has raised over $45 million, her turn on the Jimmy Fallon show has north of 4.5 million views on Facebook, it has some entertaining jabs at Donald Trump – mostly cheap shots – and so ends up lightweight and glib. Jeb Bush has raised $120 million and has a personal net worth of over $21 million. Trump is….well, he’s Donald Trump. Meanwhile Bernie Sanders has raised $15 million and he still travels coach. He even sits in the middle seat. Who do you think is going to be most attractive to someone on a low to medium income?

It’s the same in the UK. Jeremy Corbyn started out as underdog, duking it out to become leader of the opposition. There were numerous parody accounts on Twitter – and he looks a bit like Obi Wan Kenobi – but he turned all of these things into a social media win. His refusal to fit the mold or play the mass media game made him more attractive to young voters.

Sanders and Corbyn are both challengers who’d rather spend money helping people than fomenting conflict, whether at home or abroad. They also show that traditional advertising is no longer the best way to reach young (and older) voters. There’s a lot of money wasted to no real benefit.

My hope is that they’re paving the way for more to follow. As a politician, as a brand, as a human, it’s crucial to maintain your authenticity; to walk your talk.

Given a choice between cranky old men with wiry eyebrows but cast iron principles and real experience or bland, manicured twits with MBAs but no real clue, I know who I’d back.


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