Joint research with Mimmie Bergvall and Katrin Svensson
May’s elections to the European Parliament created history! Feminist Initiative is the first political party with a pronounced feminist ideology due to take place in Parliament. The party has in a short time during its election campaign succeeded in attracting rapidly growing voter sympathies, and the campaign went to take on the fall’s general election. Overall, marketing tactics to achieve strategic objectives have risen in politics; to compete in the increasingly competitive political arenas, with complex regulations, but also to meet knowledgeable and demanding audiences (Thrassou, Vrontis & McDonald, 2009). Before the parliamentary elections in 2010, the Swedish political parties invested SEK 280 million on their campaigns (Brännström, 2010 reference in Stömbäck & Shehata, 2013).
What were the factors that created F!’s successful campaign? We see three things that helped F! to meet the four percent threshold:
1) F!’s core issues were trending
F! have had a problem privilege (Strömbäck & Shehata, 2013) in the political debate since the feminist question is current in society, including appearing in Belinda Olsson’s controversial program Fittstim – my struggle, which resulted in a variety of articles and public posts in social media. When a SVT debate was held between the Left Party Malin Björk and the Christian Democrats Lars Adaktusson before the European elections in their morning show, and they choose to focus a greater share of TV-appearance on discussing gender, we can understand this with the help of the problem privilege.
2) F! used coproduction
F! received no state party support and relied therefore largely on volunteer work, which means that the party must be effective in recruiting volunteers and relate to a limited framework regarding marketing resources. Anyone who wanted to work for the F! may do so, and so without compensation. This is a way to open up to co-produce, or what is often called co-creation (Arvidsson, 2005; Cova & Dalli, 2009). When users themselves are involved in the production of the service they want to participate, they find that the brand value increases. Feminists Initiative get with the help of their voters a kind of free promotion and establishment in the community, by for example home partys shared on Facebook, or pink chairs which began to circulate on Instagram. It’s not the brand itself that matters but what you do and what you can get by using the brand.
Co-creation might give the co-creator power and influence, which in F!’s case can be seen as a strengthening of democratic possibility, when participants of a home party will be able to ask critical questions to the politician in a safe home environment. On the other hand, the co-creation ”steal” time from the individual, which becomes an interesting question of values in a political context, for example, is unpaid political campaigning necessarily valuable to the individual, or more valuable than activities such as being with their family and devoting themselves to artistic work? Co-production is also an opportunity for the organization to put the responsibility on the individual. If F! fails a four per cent barrier and does not come into parliament, will volunteer workers then have to take responsibility for this, and what might it mean for individuals and companies associated with the campaign work?
3) F! tells a cultural narrative
F! is playing on a backlash against the Swedish Democrats’ success, a social trend of egalitarian values, as well as more agile voters are seeking identification which does not necessarily aline with class or political block belonging (Paharia, Keinan, Avery & Schor, 2010). The party focuses on ideology in their marketing, with concepts such as feminism, anti-racism and social justice. They also addresses the heterogeneous, multicultural society, including pictures of their candidates to the European Parliament, which consists of a group of old, young, men, women, blacks, whites, and so on. Through its marketing focus on the major forgotten ideological issues, the party appears a bit like the missing heroine, an underdog, in today’s neo-liberal, economy-centered society.
F! also highlighted what they call the myth of Sweden; Sweden is not a tolerant country with a focus on equality, human rights and anti-discrimination. This story of Sweden can be seen as the country’s national identity, something that frequently is used in marketing. When we are no longer to the same extent identify with religious and ethnic groups, we need to find new sources of a common identity and organizations exploit the anxiety that occurs when increased globalization collides with national identity. When F! talks about the ”new” Swedish myth it can be seen as the opposite of what the Sweden Democrats tells of Sweden. It is a form of cultural branding, where a strong brand built by the organization uses the myths that ties in with the most tangible social tensions in society.
The parties’ tales meets two ”underdog”-narrativ, a story that has been used successfully in marketing (Holt; Moor, 2007), among others, Apple and Google, but also in a political context in the form of Barack Obama. Both parties offer an alternative to the established neo-liberal politicians who generally are based on ”hard facts”, rationality and figures rather than emotion, ideology and stories. The strategy is clear in the response that Schyman gave to an Expressen reporter when the newspaper examined Feminist Initiatives’ proposals. According to the reporter two economical proposals are not financially realistic. In response to this Schyman (2014, May 15th) states:
We’re about to have a debate where you can not open your mouth without a receipt first comes out. It is absurd that we should not talk visions and ideas. A economism have insinuated itself into politics.
There are of course dangers in every marketing strategy. Co-production can create a feeling of resignation and exploitation, and the underdog narrative can fall flat if the party becomes established. Only time, and strategy, will show the way!
Also, the use of marketing terms regarding political campaigns are not unproblematic, but reflects a general neo-liberal discourse in society where the emphasis is on economics and markets (Savigny, 2008). Seeing an election campaign as marketing instead of, say, community information, is not without consequences for how phenomena are perceived.