Kids, Cakes, And The Cronulla Sharks: The Strategy Behind “ScoMo’s” Soft New Image
The marketing strategy that "ScoMo" hopes will win him an election.
Prime minister Scott Morrison has posted on Instagram 31 times since taking the top job.
Kids are shown or mentioned in eight of those posts. Five posts are about sport, and so far two have included pictures of dogs. At press conferences, and in live TV interviews, Morrison has new catchphrases (“let’s go Sharks!”), a new hat, a new love for strawberries, and a renewed love for his old nickname, ScoMo.
Whenever you see a politician’s social media post, or see images of our parliamentarians in the news, you’re seeing a carefully crafted persona that uses everything from subject matter, to clothing, to food, dogs and nicknames to sell you a brand that you’re more likely to vote for.
So How Is Morrison Selling Himself To You?
Morrison wants to sell himself as the everyman, but at the same time surrounds himself with a marketing team that curates every aspect of his online presence. There are four aspects to his strategy.
1. The PM For Social Media
Social media allows leaders to manufacture their image with more control than they’ve ever had before. Just as US president Donald Trump has famously used his Twitter account to bypass traditional media when making policy announcements (and to attack his enemies), Australian leaders know they can curate their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts to sell their personal brand.
“A good thing with social media is it allows them to be more open,” Dee Madigan, a marketing guru who has worked on 11 Labor campaigns in the past five years, told Junkee. “The image they present is incredibly curated but it can seem more real.”
Morrison has revealed significant policy positions on his personal accounts: most recently, he shared posts on his Twitter and Facebook stating his opposition to changing the date of Australia Day.
Indulgent self-loathing doesn’t make Australia stronger. Being honest about the past does. Our modern Aus nation began on January 26, 1788. That’s the day to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, become, still to achieve. We can do this sensitively, respectfully, proudly, together. https://t.co/uM59Lwrr1p
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) September 23, 2018
2. It’s All About The Visual Cues
Details in a prime minister’s image — from clothing to who’s standing behind them — are carefully thought through before every photo opportunity and television appearance.
“Visual cues have much more impact on how people feel about things than words,” Madigan said. “Visuals work completely differently. They can make you feel something before you think something. And that can help you change people’s minds.”
That’s why politicians wear hard hats and high-vis vests on camera so much — they even wear them, Madigan confessed, when they’re off a construction site and are not actually required to.
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Often you’ll see a leader announce a policy while moving through a building or walking from one place to another, something that makes an audience believe that the government is busying itself and working hard.
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Labor uses visual cues just as much as the government. When most Labor women turned up to parliament wearing all red after days of reports about “bullying and intimidation” in the Liberal party, that was no coincidence. It was an attempt to highlight the number of women in the party, and to develop an image of unity.
3. He’s Just Like You And Me!
Morrison has positioned himself in stark contrast to the multi-millionaire who came before him. By emphasising his support for his local footy team, sharing photos of his family, and laughing about being a daggy dad, Morrison wants to come off as a relatable figure.
“He’s trying to be the ordinary man,” Madigan said. “But you don’t have to be like the general public if you can be something else. With Malcolm Turnbull, he never presented an image that he was an average person. He presented an image that he was much smarter and more successful than the average person. And that’s ok too. You can sell that.”
“But I don’t think Morrison could sell that,” she added.
Australian historian Frank Bongiorno agrees.
“I suspect that modern celebrity politics in its Australian guise probably demands [Morrison] to show that he’s not ‘out of touch’,” the Australian National University professor said. “It’s, of course, impossible to know where authenticity ends and artifice begins in politics, which is not called show business for ugly people for no reason.”
But, as The Australian has reported, ScoMo’s apparent love of the Sharks might not be that genuine after all.
4. There’s Still A Lot Of Trial And Error
Sometimes, especially with new leaders, marketing teams trial new strategies before quickly discarding them when they realise they’re not working.
Morrison’s first speech as PM repeated a key point: that this was going to be a “new generation” of Liberal party leadership.
“That died so bloody quickly,” Madigan said. “There’s no way you look at this middle-aged bloke who’s been in the government for many, many years and believe that.”
Madigan believes that the emphasis on Morrison as the everyman was actually the Liberal party’s second strategy.
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Morrison Could Be The First Modern Politician To Pull This Off
“There’s plenty of evidence that suggests the biggest challenge for leaders is authenticity,” Jill Sheppard, a political scientist at the Australian National University, said. “If voters don’t believe that they are who they say they are, they don’t believe them on other issues.”
Australia has had five PMs in five years, and the four former ones have all had issues with genuineness.
“When Julia Gillard became prime minister,” Sheppard said, as an example. “She was unapologetically atheist, childless, ambitious. Everything started to unravel when she started softening her persona.” Sheppard notes that this challenge is more difficult for female politicians: evidence shows that voters more readily believe a male leader’s authenticity.
“Female leaders need to possess a unicorn combination of authenticity, femininity, and strength,” says the academic.
Bongiorno points out that this dynamic also applied to former PM Kevin Rudd.
“Rudd’s ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’ came as particularly forced in his case because he was so obviously part of the elite — a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat,” he said.
Make sure you get your fair shake of the sauce bottle, enrol to vote here http://t.co/cISSR7DD1t KRudd
— Kevin Rudd (@MrKRudd) August 9, 2013
Prime ministers have to figure out a way to be normal, despite usually being anything but. And when voters figure that out, they are punishing.
“Rudd could never convince voters that he was a man of the people. Gillard twisted and turned so much that voters couldn’t work out who she was,” Sheppard said. “Turnbull tried to lie low, which didn’t fit with everything we knew about him – he came into politics as someone with very vocal opinions and a pretty well-articulated world view, and then seemed to ditch these visions as Prime Minister. Keating tried similarly at the 1996 election, and only succeeded in confusing voters.”
And what about Morrison? Will his marketing strategy position him as the first modern PM that sells an authentic and relatable everyman message?
Sheppard isn’t optimistic: “Morrison has been fascinating so far – his hokey honest [persona], however contrived, seems to be going down ok with voters. But the parade of failed PMs before him suggests that he’ll probably slip up eventually and lose any façade of authenticity with the public.”
Morrison leaned into a political career by managing Tourism Australia over ten years ago, where he was heavily involved in marketing Australia to the world. He launched the famous international campaign “So Where The Bloody Hell Are You?” before exiting the department due to a falling out with the Tourism minister.
We’ll have to wait and see whether ScoMo’s marketing strategy pays off — or whether this time next year, he’ll just be another average bloke with enough time on his hands to attend all the Sharkies games he wants.