From brilliant marketer to mad madam

2009-05-19 00:00

WHAT on Earth has happened to Brand Zille? Only a year ago I was talking about her as one of South Africa’s leading natural-born marketers, but right now I get the feeling that she has ditched a lot of the successful strategy that put her where she is.

Perhaps she is still in election mode and hasn’t found her reset button or, has she perhaps become so swept up with political power and victory that it has affected her capacity to think clearly?

She is making marketing mistakes right, left and centre. The most important being how one should treat competitors. In marketing terms, the best business practice is to be aware of what your competitors are doing but if they start doing really dumb things, don’t follow suit by being equally as stupid. Understand what your competitors are up to, certainly, but it’s a waste of time and effort to start publicly harping on and on about it. And, above all, don’t get personal.

Now, I know politicians are supposed to speak out about opposition mistakes but Zille is making the mistake of becoming obsessive. And rising to the bait that her opposition is throwing at her.

For starters, the usually highly critical media that lambasted Jacob Zuma these past few years have changed their tack considerably. They have largely welcomed his inauguration speech, especially the part about teaching the ANC how to understand and deal with the opposition in a non-confrontational way. Sure, he will have to have a chat to Gwede Mantashe and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) about the speed at which they have completely ignored him.

But, Zille didn’t read market sentiment properly. She effectively told Zuma to shove his olive branch. She seems to have ignored a largely reconciliatory stance by the media, even to the point of not noticing that cartoonist Zapiro had temporarily removed Zuma’s showerhead. Instead, she completely fell for the ANCYL’s bait and flew into a tantrum about Zuma’s sexual history. She hasn’t seemed to have understood that her obsession with Zuma-bashing is not only bad marketing but bad politics. And, given the response to various radio talk shows recently, she’s beginning to annoy her own constituency.

She has made the mistake of reducing herself to the level of her detractors. She has made the mistake — a massive marketing blunder — of not thinking ahead to the cause and effect of her actions. She knew there would be an outcry about her all-male cabinet but she doesn’t seem to have planned any sort of credible response. She just told everyone in general to stop telling her what to do. So much for that little marketing adage about listening to your customers even if they are talking nonsense.

She seems to have failed to understand that the ANCYL has a marketing strategy to disrupt its opposition in any way possible.

That while it may well be puerile and illogical, it is working. It is baiting her and the more vociferously she responds, the more it claps its hands with joy. It is distracting her big-time.

But, getting back to her obsession with Zuma’s background, if indeed she is going to ignore the reconciliatory olive branch he held out to opposition parties, she will be giving him the moral high ground.

It will also mean that she has learnt nothing from the past year or two. She will not have learnt that the Independent Democrats’ losses at the polls were the direct result of Patricia de Lille’s obsession with the arms deal. Nothing wrong with that, except that voters got sick and tired of her harping on and on.

And now, with Zuma as president for the next five years and with the most critical of media seemingly wanting to give him a chance to prove himself, Zille is not going to achieve anything with her anti-Zuma obsession.

Mainly because the more obsessive she gets with Zuma and the ANCYL, the more distracted she will become from showing the whole of South Africa what the DA is capable of achieving. Arrogance and obsession are not things that sit well in any marketing campaign. And there is no question that marketing is fast becoming an important factor in politics.

Something that endeared the nation to Zille was when she was elected leader of the Democratic Alliance and showed such grace, dignity and humility when she was formally introduced to Thabo Mbeki. That Zille has now been rebranded, it seems, into someone with very little grace, a snappy disposition and a somewhat arrogant “don’t dare tell me what to do” attitude.

Barack Obama is a natural-born marketer, and so too are Nelson Mandela, Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, Zuma, Jake White and Trevor Manuel. Zille used to be and it makes me wonder just what the hell has happened to her.


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