By Steve Williams
Last week, Alberta’s Progressive Future — a group of NDP loyalists — proposed exploring whether the provincial NDP should change its name.
The idea makes perfect sense, especially when you consider it from a business/branding perspective.
Imagine you are in charge of a business headquartered in Alberta. You have a dedicated staff, passionate supporters, a healthy cash position and a principal competitor that analysts feel is vulnerable on many fronts.
There’s just one problem: a national organization with the exact same name is doing all kinds of things that are anathema to your local customers. In fact, their adversarial relationship goes back decades.
That’s the pickle the Alberta NDP is in.
In Alberta, the NDP brand has more baggage than WestJet during the holiday season. And it isn’t because of Rachel Notley, whose approval ratings are often higher than the premier’s. It’s the fault of the federal NDP and its shotgun marriage with the Trudeau Liberals.
The Liberal party is an ideal cautionary tale for the Alberta NDP. Alberta Liberals are rarer than spirit bears. This is not the fault of the current provincial Liberal leader, John Roggeveen. The Liberals’ plight in Alberta is all on Justin Trudeau.
How bad is their predicament? Despite being Alberta’s oldest political party, the Liberals received just 4,259 votes in the May provincial election — the lowest since 1940. That’s half as many votes provincewide as Tyler Shandro got in his riding (and he lost).
Connor McDavid could run as a Liberal candidate in Edmonton and he’d get annihilated like one of his foam targets during the NHL skills competition.
The Alberta NDP is different from the federal brand. But expecting your local franchise to be immune from the antics of the mother ship is wishful thinking.
Customers are not homogeneous. Brands that treat them like they are can face severe backlash. Just ask the distributor of Bud Light in Texas.
Earlier this year, Bud Light’s marketing promotion with transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney won the hearts of progressives. Unfortunately, it lost the wallets of conservatives, to the tune of 22.8 per cent of sales and $27 billion in market cap.
On rare occasions, brands can have multiple positive personalities. Timberland is a premium outdoor apparel company. Because of its deep roots in hip-hop culture, you’re just as likely to find their iconic boots at a Manhattan nightclub as you are at a Maine campsite. The critical factor is that the personalities don’t clash.
There are few examples where a brand achieves local popularity despite broader negativity. One such unicorn is Spam. While the spiced ham product is associated with poverty in the continental United States and the United Kingdom, it is very popular in Hawaii and is a premium product in South Korea. But both those markets are well insulated from the negative perceptions of mainland U.S.
There is nowhere for the Alberta NDP to hide when their federal counterpart takes positions that alienate the Alberta electorate. And the time spent doing damage control is counterproductive. In a 2018 interview, Rachel Notley went as far as to call Jagmeet Singh’s positions thoughtless and elitist. Earlier this year, during the tight election race, Notley said she “completely disagreed” with his stance on the energy industry.
Brands can’t thrive with this kind of identity crisis. At the very least, the Alberta NDP should conduct a brand audit.
The good news is that in addition to its natural resources, Alberta also has a wealth of excellent branding and marketing resources. During my advertising career, the firms I worked with bested much larger national and international companies in pitches and other competitions.
This province was built on exploration. The NDP would be wise to explore a name change.
Steve Williams is the former chief creative officer of an Alberta-based national ad agency and a former marketing columnist.