Tell us about your favourites and win
Do puppets have a role to play in the public, opinionated and unstable space of politics? Yes, says Thabani Khumalo.
Johannesburg - Chester Missing has become one of the most influential, recognisable, respected, feared and well-known figures in our political space.
He has interviewed political heavyweights, covered big events and commented on controversial and extraordinary political personalities.
Like all seasoned journalists, Chester knows that reporters need to ask hard-hitting and embarrassing questions to keep democracy alive. He knows that politicians demand to be treated like royal family members rather servants of the citizenry.
His hard line, rebuke and mockery tactics have helped him neutralise their arrogance. I expect Chester to feature prominently in the 2014 election campaign battle.
Who is Chester?
Chester is neither a living human being, normal journalist nor common political commentator. He is a dummy, puppet or mascot. Puppets or mascots are popularly known as characters.
Do characters like Chester have a role in the public, opinionated and unstable space of politics? Yes. An ambitious political party in a complex and unstable political market needs to have a visible, appealing, relatable and reputable brand.
In their quest to achieve broad appeal and create publicity, attraction and acceptance and to transmit credible, influential, effective, educative, informative, motivating, inspiring and entertaining political messages – some powerful political brands have conveniently turned to the magic of characters.
Smiles, eye contact, talking, mingling, entertaining, charming, endearing and personal contact are what characters do best in their quest to educate, appeal, disseminate and reflect their master’s vision and values.
Politics is in trouble with the masses and has acquired an image of being deceitful, desperate, corrupt, uncaring, incompetent, inconsiderate and not honouring its election promises. It is in need of reputable political ambassadors and representatives. Contest in the political terrain has intensified and parties have ensured that their marketing mix strategies are as comprehensive as possible.
However, mascot marketing tactic is still missing from their transformation and campaign strategies. What is it about political brand characters that make them influential?
Characters have proved to be the most reliable and reputable ambassadors of parties’ principles, policies and programmes.
If used innovatively in marketing, communications and election campaign efforts, characters can enhance parties’ visibility; build brand loyalty and awareness; sustain recall; consolidate differentiation; accentuate the brand personality; generate publicity; shape public opinion; increase citizens’ emotional involvement in the political brand and promote appeal across the public spectrum.
With voters feeling disillusioned, with growing pressure on politicians to prove their worth in community development, the opportunities to turn to characters as part of direct and indirect political brand marketing initiatives have become a strategic priority.
In this age of expensive brand ambassadors, characters provide a creative, sustainable, low-cost model for communicating a political brand’s principles and personifying the party’s desired image.
The other advantage is that as characters are created and owned by the political parties, switching loyalties, which is a frequent incidence with political spokespersons and celebrity endorsements, can be ruled out.
Unlike presidents, public faces of their political brands and celebrities, political brands’ ambassadors, who at times are embroiled in controversies and scandals, characters are disciplined, humble and honest creatures whose images and reputations are always positive.
In every mature political market with competitive political pressures, where it is hard to differentiate one political product from another, characters can define parties’ offerings in terms of principles, policies, views, uniqueness and benefits in one symbol at first sight. In fact, this political branding trick has been used in politics for decades.
Political characters can take the role of the “spokesperson” with their own mobile and social media pages, and may even be more appealing than the brand’s page, thus building relationships that result in emotional connections with membership, potential members and other stakeholders.
Kids and youth love characters and they could be ideal in promoting political participation at an early stage, sensitising them about voter awareness campaigns and elections to strengthen democracy.
The partnership between a character and a political brand has an intangible sort of magic and may produce unbelievable political results.
So far Chester Missing has proved beyond reasonable doubt that characters should be made card-carrying members of political parties. Until and unless politicians create their own dummies, puppets or mascots, Chester will continue rebuking, mocking, dominating and even embarrassing them.
*Thabani Khumalo is a political and communication strategist with the Durban Think Tank Marketing Services. He writes in his personnel capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.