Long before he even ran for Mayor of London, Boris Johnson had developed an unusually strong political brand, to the extent that few bothered referring to him using his surname. Brand Boris inspires and infuriates in equal measure: his supporters have long argued he is able to reach parts of the electorate others can’t, while his critics find his first name alone to be a hair-trigger for impressive amounts of anger. At the bottom of this anger is often a great deal of envy that Johnson seems able to use his brand to get through scrapes and avoid scrutiny in a way other politicians wouldn’t. Both sides know, whether they would admit it or not, that Brand Boris is one of the most potent in modern politics.
So it is no surprise that the next generation of ambitious politicians want to emulate his success and create their own first-name-only brands too. The most obvious (or perhaps most shameless) imitation comes from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, or Rishi.
Rishi obviously has the benefit of a distinctive first name, like Boris and unlike, say, Michael Gove. He has mobilised this during the coronavirus crisis by illustrating all his announcements on social media with a series of Brand Rishi graphics which make scant, if any, reference to the government. The recipe for these graphics is simple: thoughtful picture of Rishi as the background, stylish Rishi signature endorsing the message like a celebrity chef hawking a new kitchen gadget, and a series of natty (if totally illegible) font choices. Here’s one recent example:
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) July 5, 2020
The show must go on.We’re introducing a world-leading £1.57 billion rescue package to help cultural, arts and heritage institutions weather the impact of coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/J3KXUOxJEE
It’s not clear whether Rishi is announcing a package for the arts or launching his own aspirational menswear line. It’s not even clear whether this is a UK Government announcement as there is no logo other than Rishi Sunak’s signature. Mind you, given the kerning on this particular social media banner, not much is clear at all. Does it say ‘we stand to get her’? Or ‘west end together’? You have to read one letter at a time and search for meaning as in a puzzle.
A clearer Brand Rishi announcement is this:
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) July 8, 2020
To support restaurants and the people who work in them we’re saying ‘Eat Out to Help Out’.So for the month of August we will give you a 50% reduction, up to £10 per head, on sit-down meals and non-alcoholic drinks Monday-Wednesday. #PlanForJobs pic.twitter.com/D6eznIDjqC
Here, Rishi is going into the restaurant business with a logo you wouldn’t consider out of place on an upmarket brunch menu. Obviously, the UK government or the Treasury branding would look out of place next to upmarket avocado toast, so it’s not there at all. The most striking thing about this image is that it doesn’t feature a soft-focus picture of the Chancellor staring meaningfully at a plate of poached eggs.
Someone in the Treasury is having a lot of fun with one of the many apps that allow you to design these sorts of banners quickly, which means that no matter how many announcements Rishi makes, there’s a graphic ready in seconds to accompany it:
The Chancellor was asked about Brand Rishi on the Today programme this morning, and responded with typical good humour. He argued that the most important thing was getting ‘our message’ out and that he was happy for people to poke fun at him in the process.
The full interview was an example of why Brand Rishi is more than just social media fluff: he gave very direct answers to questions, admitting the government hadn’t been able to help everyone affected by the lockdown, and saying very clearly that ‘there has been dead weight in all of the interventions we have put in place’. He has easily been the best and most honest-sounding communicator of the crisis – far more so than the boss whose brand he wishes to emulate. Perhaps then all this work on Brand Rishi will pay off in the long run. And if not, there’s a good line of suits just waiting to be endorsed.