Finding the capital’s next Clooney: The new mayor must be a brand manager and spokesperson
Much has been written about the candidates standing in London’s mayoral election. But in the hubbub about housing policies and Heathrow expansion, one of the things that doesn’t get talked about is what they’ll do for “Brand London”.
London is a huge brand, and a valuable one. It accounts for more than half of the £25bn inbound tourism spend to the UK, draws talented people to Europe’s fastest growing tech cluster, and attracts massive investment. Its brand is owned by the people of London, and they need to make sure it’s looked after properly.
Brands are built on associations – the large or small things that people carry in their heads and hearts, which influence how they feel. And London’s associations are some of the richest and most famous in the world.
Crucially, it is people who affect brands. And the person most likely to influence a city’s brand destiny is its mayor. Rudy Giuliani transformed New York from dangerously exciting to just plain exciting. London's mayor is not simply responsible for the city's governance, they are its vital and dynamic symbol – a brand manager and spokesperson. If London was Nespresso, the mayor would be a Nestle marketing executive and George Clooney rolled into one. Westminster Abbey and the Beefeaters don’t change much, but every day the mayor is doing things which affect London's brand, whether it’s riding a self-christened bike or getting stuck on a zip-wire.
While much of the debate over the course of the campaign has focused on the policies of the candidates, we should be thinking about brand fit as well. That’s how you’d think about a spokesperson. So how well do the candidates’ personal brand values align with those of London itself?
First, we need to discern what London’s brand values are. It is a diverse, stylish welcoming city with sense of history and humour. It is creative, proud, courageous, charismatic and even a little eccentric. So do the candidates possess these values or jar with them?
Khan is courageous to the point of pugnacity. He has a degree of style and some follicular similarities with Clooney himself. But would he respect London’s history? And how about charisma? Goldsmith has the creativity of a writer. He is confident and courageous in his opposition to the Conservative status quo. But is he really comfortable with diversity? Is his earnestness really London?
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that whichever you think would make the best brand manager, neither of them is yet the ideal brand spokesman.
Love him or not, Johnson ticks a lot of the brand value boxes, and has strong and positive associations with London among the capital's many potential visitors and other stakeholders. So whoever wins this election, they owe it to London not just to get it right on cycle lanes and housing estate demolition, but to grow into a personality which subtly, or not so subtly builds London's brand. Because, to steal a line from another brand, we’re worth it.