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The tale of two political party brands in twenty years

Dr Kobby Mensah - July 26, 2017 - 0 comments

My areas of expertise include Political Marketing, Tourism Marketing and Financial Services Marketing.

I use this opportunity to offer my sincere appreciation to Dr. Lord Mensah and Dr Eric Ofosu-Hene of the Department of finance, UGBS; my Graduate and National Service assistants, Edem Amenuvor and Deborah Narh, and all the MPhil students, especially Alex Anlesinya and Bukari Zakari for the various contributions in getting this research completed successfully.


The aim of this study is to establish whether changes in party leadership could result in changes in party behaviour and voter choice in Ghana. The study also offers insights into who the likely voters are for the two dominant parties in Ghana, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), how their voting patterns have evolved, and the causes of this evolution. In order words, the study tries to identify the age, gender, and class distribution of voters for the two parties. It argues that changes in party leadership over the past 20 years have influenced voter perceptions on party brands and party choice over the years.


Since 1992 when Ghana was returned to democracy, academics, political commentators, party activists, and indeed the electorates, have held the view that the two dominant parties, National Democratic Congress (NDC) and New Patriotic Party (NPP), appeal to two sections of the society, broadly speaking. The NPP of the right is known to be predominantly upper class, and the left of centre NDC party is predominantly lower class.

For twenty years of multi-party democracy these perceptions on party-voter class associations have held same amongst academics, practitioners, experts in media and politics, despite changes in both parties’ leadership and management styles. Furthermore, the two parties are known to have entrenched regional and ethnocentric appeals, which will be discussed further in the paper.

Most electioneering campaign studies in Ghana (Mensah, 2009; Ninsin, 2006; Youde, 2005; Gyimah-Boadi, 2001; Nugent, 2001; Ayee, 2000; 1997; Anebo, 1997) affirm this belief, until Tweneboah-Koduah et al (2010) study on political brand choice in Ghana which alludes to a gradual shift from the previously held class, regional and ethnocentric associations.

However, the latter study is also limited in varied ways, and will be discussed. That notwithstanding, these studies have played pivotal role in unearthing the phenomenon of how political parties in Ghana seek to brand themselves, serving as foundation scholarship on which further studies could evolve.

Indeed, scholarship in Ghana could not be the only culprit to blame for failing to track the changes to political brand associations that leadership change brings. The political parties themselves could only hazard a guess about the profile of their core voters, and most undoubtedly, are unsure about the effect of leadership change on voter choice.

The leadership of the NPP, for example, have on various platforms denied being a party of predominantly affluent and well educated class (Mensah, 2012). They argue that if anything at all the party’s origin from farming areas of the country such as Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Western and northern Ghana should suffice in thinking that their political brand has a broader appeal across class. The party again argues that its main opposition, the NDC is equally elitist as it also appeals to those sections of society.

Perhaps the NPPs claim is premised on the assumption that the NDC, over the years, has changed in ‘temperament’ as a result of changes in its frontline political operatives and leadership. The NDC party today can boast of young politicians, political operatives and followers who could be considered elites.

Just as the NPP, leadership of the NDC today are predominantly graduates from some of the country’s renowned universities; a variant of its past when it was perceived as a party belonging to ‘those of the streets’. Since 2000, the NDC has been led by a professor and a public relations expert, Atta Mills and John Mahama respectively, both graduates and of elite backgrounds. The scenarios above, on both parties, draw us to the study questions as follows:

  • What is the age and gender distribution of votes for the two parties?
  • What is the perceived class distribution of votes for the two parties?
  • Would change in party leadership affect party behaviour and voter choice?
  • How have the voting patterns for these two parties changed, and what are the causes for the change?
  • Are NPP and NDC still perceived as predominantly upper and lower classes respectively?

Answers to these questions are cardinal to devising a compelling political marketing strategy effective in targeting the voter. This research therefore offers the base information on which these two parties could adequately profile the voter and target them effectively with campaign messages. Thus, the sections are divided into five key areas.

The first is to elaborate on the emerging literature of political marketing in Ghana, focusing on political brand association, and how that sits within the global context of political brand association, party behaviour and voter choice, as the next section. The methodology through which the study was carried out will be accounted for in the third section, followed by findings and discussions in the fourth section. The concluding section will draw the curtain on the discussions.

1.1 Brand Association: definition, types and its application in political marketing
The concept brand association has been defined and operationalized in many ways (Uggla, 2005; Schneider, 2004; Kapferer, 1997). From party management perspective, Kapferer (1997), for example notes that political parties seek to brand associate by personalizing the political brand through functional and emotional attributes in order that they can reinforce the brand in the minds of the consumer (Kapferer, 1997: 109).

Kapferer’s views are supported by Schneider (2004), who observes that brands that have the ability to generate recall are those that have established knowledge structures of what they stand for in the minds of consumers over time. Hence, consumers who see a reflection of themselves in these brands would choose them during purchase. For example, the automobile company Volvo has over the years been able to link safety as benefit to its brand, and Mercedes-Benz for prestige. This means, not only do the marques of these automobile brands generate recall of the brand name, but also the benefits they offer the consumer. Therefore, a consumer for safety need would choose Volvo, and that for prestige would choose Mercedes-Benz.

In British politics, the Conservative and Labour parties have long been associated with fiscal discipline and social justice respectively, due to their long standing policy positions on Taxes, the NHS and other socio economic needs of the people. Hence a voter who predominantly seeks social justice through redistribution of wealth would choose the Labour party, and one whose self-concept aligns with fiscal discipline, individual responsibility would choose the Conservatives.

Uggla (2005) also talks of brand association as anything that symbolically represents the brand in the minds of the target customer. Thus defining the concept as ‘the link a brand establishes with its stakeholders through, for example, people, places, institutions that add to (or subtract from) customers knowledge of the brand’ (2005: 789).

That means not only do institutions such as political parties use ideology to anchor their brand, but are also able to use “iconic” personalities and issue positions to do same; and such anchors can add or detract value through the action or inaction of the brand, and/or other players in the industry.

For example, a consistent on-time delivery of consignments by a postal company (a functional attribute) will naturally enhance the impression held about the company as a dependable partner (emotional attribute), especially if the statement ‘a dependable partner’ happens to be the postal company’s slogan. On the other hand, a customer perspective association could be the emotive personal attribute of the company as a dependable partner that the customer beholds, is most likely to weigh on the costumer’s choice when faced with a similar purchase decision in future.

In developing brand association to manage brand/market relationships, Farquhar and Herr (1993: 265) note a two-dimensional framework of brand-to-associate and associate-to-brand. Within the wider debate on how the political brand is managed, brand-to-associate is market-driven whereas associate-to-brand is market-driving, to use Day’s (1994) market orientation theory.

The benefit in operationalizing the two, according to Kapferer, is the opportunity not only to build a brand but also to stretch the brand—leveraging—to other terrains not original to it. In implementing the market-driven brand-to-associate strategy, an organization examines internally held values of the brand, its identity for example, to understand the brand’s basic uniqueness and who it targets (Kapferer, 1995: 30).

This first step helps gain insights in product performance features that are suitable for the target market. It also assists in developing the brand’s marketing activities, such as communications to support the brand.

In the Volvo example cited earlier, the brand name is synonymous or associated with the word safety because the company inculcates the idea of safety, not only in their communication but also in product design, according to the managing director and the technical manager, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustav Larson (1927).

On the other hand, operationalizing market-driving associate-to-brand orientation means identifying market expectations (consumer values) and associating the brand’s values to match those expectations. It involves re-examination of the brand’s identity and keeping track of the brand’s image and reputation—opinions about the brand held by consumers.

The process of associate-to-brand is crucial to renewing the brand’s relevance to the market, as it is in stretching the brand to other markets not original to the brand. The process involves asking two main questions, according to Kapferer (1997: 169). The first is how do we adapt to the changing conditions whilst keeping the brand’s identity? And the other is what should we adapt and what do we leave untouched? This exercise is thus important as the brand’s clientele and market expectations change overtime.

Associate-to-brand strategy is especially crucial for brand extension, when a decision is taken to advance a product into other markets. In the case of Volvo, for example, when the association ‘safety’ is mentioned, it should evoke brand Volvo. However, with people becoming ‘time poor’; having more to do within a short time, the brand needs to find out other values that are of concern to consumers aside ‘safety’.

This may yield results such as less time spent in commuting, not necessarily safety, for automobile buyers, especially the younger generation. This means for Volvo to remain relevant and expand its market share, the brand needs to adapt the association ‘fast’, whilst keeping its original identity of ‘safety’, hence becoming the ‘safest fast’ car in an attempt to tap into the ‘yuppie’ (young urban professional) market of today.

The exposition of brand association, its forms and applicability in politics and in commerce, as noted above, suggest that not only could NDC and NPP use ideology, an inherent value of the political offering, to represent the brand in the minds of voters but also adapt values external to them as their political brand representation in the minds of voters.

In this regard references could be made to some few studies in the political marketing literature (Mensah, 2009; Tweneboah-Koduah et al, 2010; Hinson and Tweneboah-Koduah, 2010) that have researched into the concept of political brand association in Ghana and others in political science and sociology that have looked at how parties in Ghana campaign and attract votes (Ninsin, 2006; Youde, 2005; Gyimah-Boadi, 2001; Nugent, 2001; Ayee, 2000; 1997; Anebo, 1997). Of these studies, Tweneboah-Koduah et al (2010) is the closest to the current study.

2. Literature on political brands and voter choice in Ghana

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