The marketing of the "Parti Socialiste" brand name

It’s ballot time again, and today french citizens elect their president for the next five years. The contenders are the favorite Nicolas Sarkozy, a quite radical right-wing leader, and Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste or PS in french) champion.

I’ve already blogged about some weaknesses of the french PS, but my wife told me a story pointing to more, and this is were the marketing comes to the stage.

Here’s the story: my wife took a taxi a few days ago and spoke with the driver, of Asian origin. Hot topic of the moment: the elections, of course. The driver was in favor of Nicolas Sarkozy. It turned out that the driver used to work for Arianespace, the French arm of the European aerospace industry. At some point, his contract wasn’t renewed and they took a “white” (Caucasian) fellow to perform the task. The cab driver was convinced his ethnic origin was the cause for the loss of his job (he should have go to court in my opinion, but this is another story).

My wife was surprised by his choice of Nicolas Sarkozy, because, although his team did a great job in trying to be as much as possible friendly in a specific way with everyone (see my previous post), his views on national identity and his tactical proximity with the far-right Front National don’t paint him as the best possible person against discrimination in the conventional wisdom. Further questioning the driver, he added that “I know, but France his going bad anyway – and this is all the PS’s fault“. I’m not sure if France is going so bad, but this is a widely held view here anyway – and has been for at least the last 30 years. I know, I was there.

However the “PS fault” is interesting, because the right wing, not the PS, has been in power for more than ten years (the incumbent president Jacques Chirac was first elected in 1995). Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy are both carrying the flag of the UMP or Union for a Popular Movement, a party that not only is the one of the President, but also has controlled simultaneously for at least five years: both chambers (the Senate and the Assemblée Nationale), and thus the successive governments, many of them Nicolas Sarkozy was one of the most important members.

So, even not being very sympathetic to the PS, it’s hard to blame them alone for the “France going bad”, and to judge UMP and its candidate Nicolas Sarkozy not guilty at the same time. But my wife’s taxi driver is certainly not the only one having this view, many people are.

What conclusion can we draw from a marketing point of view ?

Quite clearly, PS hurts as a trade mark. The PS now carries a negative connotation in the mind of many voters, who may buy into its program, but won’t because the PS is a label meaning “a France going bad” to them.

If the PS loses today, it’s the clear sign it won’t ever win a national election in France again. Something new has to be created, a new party with a brand new name, leaving the weight of negativity in the past.

Interestingly enough, the right wing faced the same problem a few years ago and did its own revolution. UMP was created from the RPR, a former right-wing party that had became entangled with too many financial and political scandals. I’m not sure if many of them were proven, but the harm was done in term of image, and RPR had became associated with political dishonesty in the mind of too many. Resurrecting it as the UMP was a brilliant move, that may prove fruitful in today’s ballot.

The PS, in contrast, is one step late one the marketing side, and could pay it no later than today.