The hottest promotional video of this week came not from Netflix, but instead from a rather unexpected source: the Chancellor of the exchequer.
Riding on a wave of pre-Budget excitement, Rishi Sunak this week dropped a slick five-minute film that would make any marketing team proud.
But while the idea of branding a Budget is new, the glossy clip is only the latest example of personal PR from an Instagram-friendly chancellor who has made a name for himself thanks not only to his generous Covid stimulus packages, but also his glossy social media presence.
Branding the Budget
While the Budget has long been associated with the iconic red box, eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed a new emblem accompanying the latest fiscal forecasts. The badge, which features four moving yellow columns, has been splashed alongside the traditional Treasury logo in teasers ahead of tomorrow’s statement.
Branding experts tell City A.M. that the flashy new badge reflects effort to bring the Budget up to date and more relatable for the public.
Andy Payne, global chief creative officer at Interbrand, describes the emblem as “responsive” and “dynamic”, pointing to the financial overtones of the moving columns. “It feels like it’s trying to be more current to the context it finds itself in,” he says.
Vicky Bullen, chief executive of Coley Porter Bell, argues that the new emblem may not be a logo, but merely graphics aimed at making a dry financial announcement “more palatable and exciting”. However, she points to the “checks and balances” of the moving columns, adding that the yellow gives it an optimistic quality.
Logo aside, however, Sunak’s flashy mini-film also points to a wider effort by the chancellor to build his own personal brand. The glossy five-minute video, which tells the story of the last 12 months in emotionally-charged montage format, continues a trend of personalised announcements from Number 11’s trendiest resident.
Previous Covid-related support packages, including the furlough scheme, have been accompanied by flashy promotional images featuring Sunak’s signature in slick calligraphy. The former Goldman Sachs banker has also become an unlikely style icon, attracting praise for his branded clothing and trademark grey hoodie. Scores of mugs, sweatshirts and face masks emblazoned with Sunak’s face have now cropped up online — an accolade granted to an exclusive group of political figures, including coronavirus briefing pin-ups Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van-Tam.
Interbrand’s Payne says the pre-Budget video is “brand Rishi”, but argues that it also reflects the wider efforts of the Treasury to tackle the pandemic. “I think it’s trying to be transparent; trying to break down the barriers between government and people. It’s trying to show him in a very human light.”
Personal branding is not a new concept for politicians. Boris Johnson has long worked at his persona of the bumbling eccentric, while France’s Emmanuel Macron has put both time and money into maintaining his image, including spending €26,000 on makeup in his first three years in office.
But Bullen argues that Sunak’s branding was “eerily opposite” to that of the prime minister. “It’s just so interesting to see how he is absolutely precise and measured in absolutely everything that he does, and it’s such a direct contrast to his boss with his off-the-cuff disheveledness.”
This personal PR has sparked speculation that the chancellor is preparing his own leadership bid and landed him in hot water among some of his fellow Tory MPs. Sunak has shrugged off these accusations, denying that he was vying for the top job and insisting he was “trying lots of different ways to communicate with people”.
But Bullen warns against overdoing the personal branding, which she says can come across as “frivolous and artificial”.
“I think he does need to have a very clear sense of what he stands for, what his values are, what his personality is, and he does need to express those,” she says. “But I think he needs to focus on expressing those through what he says and what he does and how he behaves and perhaps to worry a little bit less about creating stylised signatures.”
And while Sunak has so far been tasked with doling out money during the pandemic, the cheery chancellor may also have to reconsider his personal branding as he begins to tighten the purse strings once again. For now, however, Sunak is continuing to hone his image as the chicest chancellor of recent times.