Jeremy Corbyn Politics Branding

What Jeremy Corbyn's unlikely rise tells us about personal branding in today's politics

By Chris Moody | creative director

September 2, 2015 | 5 min read

Russell Brand recently broadcast the last episode of The Trews, his wonky news show that aimed to bring a dash of truth and spirit to an increasingly bleak political landscape.

The rise of the outsider: Jeremy Corbyn

Despite being highly successful and running for over a year, Brand signed off on an uncharacteristically forlorn note telling ‘Trewsers’ that he felt that the news cycle was repeating itself so much he would be better off taking some time out, to find some new angles of attack. He felt he needed to pause because he was in danger of simply becoming more of the same (he's also got a new tour to do).

This came off the back of earlier missives in which he showed his support for Jeremy Corbyn – the Ray Mears of Labour's political wilderness and another man who is fiercely keen to not be seen as more of the same.

Much like Brand and Bernie Sanders (the US democrat who is filling arenas much like the late great One Direction over in the states) Corbyn aims to be fresh and alternative in a sea of blandness. A recent set of Survation polls suggested he was gaining popularity across a broad spectrum of the electorate and not just his party, but why?

As a professionally politically agnostic creative director I'm not going to start questioning his platform and policies. Instead I’m thinking about those little things that have helped make the public see him as something new and different.

Perhaps it's the wrapper he comes in that has also helped garner some of this added attention – workmanlike, studious, ruffled. In contrast to the usual Hardy Amies mannequins that line the seats of the Commons, Corbyn feels real, like he’s in the middle of a job. The fact he doesn't really look like a politician is one of the small reasons why he might just convince people he could be a good one.

His distinct visual identity could be likened to Farage's tweeds, Boris's hair and even Donald Trump's 'hair'. It’s purposeful, visual shorthand that reinforces the idea he is different. Yes it looks more like a member of Time Team than a traditional member of parliament but crucially it’s not what people expect.

While it’s highly likely the crumbled shirts with the row of Bics in the pocket are as consciously styled as the chancellor’s hairdo, what is clear is that it's a style all of his own and that it came from him alone, not from focus group consultation. These 'norm core' threads are a little signifier that we should not see him as another vanilla politician (the biggest irony of all being that a neat way to do that in 2015 politics is to dress in a multitude of vanilla hues). Instead he has made a clear choice to show that he is happy to stand out from his peers.

We live in a time where we have more opportunity and platforms than ever before to stand up for what we believe in, and stand out in the process. Social media, rolling news and constant web access means all of us, be that individuals, political parties or businesses, have more channels to put a distinctive presence out in the world. And though technology gives us the freedom to be what we want to be in whatever way we want to be it, paradoxically we have also seen a current trend whereby what people want to be, is to be just like everybody else.

These times of infinite opportunity are also the times of identikit fashion, me too magazines and ‘structured reality’ programmes – where interchangeable humans look blankly and talk blankly to each other. There are Saturday night variety shows overflowing with lines of identical looking kids that queue for hours just so they can get on stage and sing a song just like someone else. For some, blending in has become the new standing out.

We saw this in the damp squib that was the election. Months of unmemorable material that left no trace after a predictable win. A third of people registered to vote didn't even bother turning up on polling day. It means that today anyone even slightly willing to talk out of turn, go off script and look different is leaving fellow candidates stumbling over their autocues.

There’s a great opportunity in these times of uncertainness, austerity and similarity to break the rules, make some new ones. Those who contribute to society and culture be they politicians, media stars and especially the creative industry should always look to stand out and challenge conventions.

Who knows if Corbyn’s rise will ultimately lead to success. But at a time when a conversation can end up being a retweet of a retweet it at least shows that the public is still hungry for alternatives to the bland.

Chris Moody is creative director of Wolff Olins

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