London mayoral candidates battle for branding supremacy

By Josephine McDermott
BBC News, London


Boris Johnson's image has formed a key part of the London race for mayor - from the blue, floppy-haired profile on Back Boris 2012 merchandise to the hairy cartoon character depicted as a thief in Ken Livingstone's campaign literature.

But is it wise to reduce the election to caricatures, what are the messages behind some of the most distinctive designs and how well are the parties reaching their audience?

Boris Johnson, Conservative

image captionA pair of cufflinks is among the merchandise available with Boris Johnson's blue, floppy-haired profile

Umbrellas, cufflinks and Oyster card holders are among the merchandise branded with a blue outline of Boris Johnson's distinctive profile.

Jo Hodges, course director of BA Advertising at London College of Communication, said: "As an icon, Boris is definitely a brand. He's like a tin of baked beans. He looks very singular.

"He's the polar bear versus Ken Livingstone, the grey man in the mac.

"Good marks for looking at ambient merchandise but the choice of products is a bit too gin and Jags."

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said the merchandise was launched last year and the focus of the campaign branding was now the nine-point plan and 'Better off with Boris'.

He said: "The campaign is focusing on the issues - getting 2,000 police on the streets, cutting crime, helping cut waste and keeping council tax and fares low. That's what we are concentrating on."

Jenny Jones, Green Party

image caption'He's the gift that keeps on giving in terms of visual images', said the Green party about Boris Johnson

Between 5,000 to 10,000 fake bank notes designed by graphic designer Christopher Day were handed out at underground stations in January, said Mark Cridge, London Green Party media officer.

Mr Cridge said Mr Johnson had created a character of the "likeable buffoon who can't possibly be doing bad things for London".

He said: "This role he's playing makes it very easy for us to pick holes in it. This led to the brief for the Boris bank note."

Mr Cridge added that he thought the frontrunners being engaged in a "personality-driven Punch and Judy show" probably helped when trying to speak to five million households.

Ms Hodges said she did not think the bank note would win votes for the Green party because of a lack of branding.

She said: "It's very modern advertising with the QR (Quick Response) code, funky, funny and forward-thinking."

Ken Livingstone, Labour

image captionBoris Johnson's floppy hair features in Labour's caricature of him as a pickpocket

"It's old fashioned and negative but funny", said Ms Hodges of Labour's campaign poster which shows Mr Johnson as a pickpocket.

"It's a good old joke and everybody gets it. Ken's still saying the same stuff."

A spokesman for Ken Livingstone said: "The adverts created featuring Boris Johnson are meant in a light-hearted way to highlight the very serious issues such as the Tory Mayor's fare hikes and cuts to police numbers."

A spokesman for the advertising agency, BETC London, said: "The Tories used a silhouette of Boris Johnson back in 2008.

"We used our version of it in a light-hearted manner to make some very serious points and deliver messages in a way which connects directly with the electorate."

Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrats

image captionBrian Paddick's advertising has veered away from attacking his opponents, said the Liberal Democrats

"I was amazed this was a Liberal campaign", said Ms Hodges in reaction to the advertising with the slogan of You Break It, You Fix It.

"It feels like a campaign the Conservatives would have done about 15 years ago."

She added: "It's very one-dimensionally themed."

A spokesman for Brian Paddick, said: "Our posters and leaflets highlight a range of Brian Paddick's policies, as well as his experience as a senior police officer in London.

"We have focused on Brian's positive vision for London rather than attacking our opponents.

"What is clear from Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone's branding is they have no new ideas to promote."

Jeremy Lee, associate editor of communications magazine Campaign, said: "The Tories, Labour and Greens have all used images of Boris to try and get different points across - to the Greens and Labour he's a privileged, bumbling public schoolboy on the side of the wealthy; to the Tories his easygoing nature and lack of apparent political polish (whether real or imaginary) puts him on the side of the Londoner.

"To all parties, he has in some way come to personify London - such recognition puts him in a powerful position but also could provide the rope with which he hangs himself.

"The Tories hope it will be the former, Labour and the Greens the latter."

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