General Election Special

CEO David Alterman reflects on the upcoming election

A general election is one occasion when our market research industry makes it into public consciousness, even if for most people it is a ghoulish obsession with polling, the lowest common denominator. To their credit the media have largely been disciplined in explaining the limitation of polls – ‘only one poll that matters’, ‘margin of error’, rolling averages’ etc. MRPs are flavour of the month, some commentators even having a crack at MRP’s full name – (Multi-level Regression and Post-stratification of course), which are helping to generate some of the apocalyptic headlines for the Conservative party.

What inevitably gets missed in the blizzard of polling reporting is an understanding of the underlying emotional drivers of choice and the underlying health of the ‘brands’, and indeed of the category itself.

Viewing party preference through the prism of brand preference sheds more light on this – as the choice for consumers seems to be between a brand that people don’t trust, a brand people trust but don’t really care about, a brand that satisfies base desires but is dangerous and expensive, and a brand that is better for the planet but we probably can’t afford.

On the one hand that’s the sort of market ripe for an optimistic new brand that connects with hopes and desires. Sadly the category as a whole is so damaged that each of the brands is caught up in a tidal wave of cynicism. And the election campaign ‘highlights’ have only made things worse; an incessant focus on the negative – the insider dealing on poll betting, D Day disasters, and ambiguity over tax plans. Almost nothing to date has painted a positive future for us or addressed the damage that widespread poverty is having on society.

So reversing that cynicism requires a reframing of the category as a whole – from self-interest to public interest, from opportunistic chancers to a commitment to public service. There is a huge gap in the market, and a huge market in the gap. But will any brand that promises change really be trusted?

I guess we will find out over the next few years.