Rob Ford is gathering his war room council for another run at Mayor -- it would appear that this will be a serious grown-up effort after all since it will be supported by noted Liberal bagman and fund raiser Ralph Lean.
The easy comment on this would be to note the debacle that the Mayor has been thus far and then to add the inevitable, "What exactly is Ralph Lean smoking?"
But my question -- as professional marketing and communications expert -- is, "If Rob Ford was a client of mine how exactly would I rebrand him for success in the next election?"
Would it be even possible at this stage to rebrand Ford?
I always start with other clients by conducting a strategic brand assessment -- or SBA in strategy speak. This is a process that takes a 360-degree look at the brand we are focusing on by conducting research and interviews on a bunch of areas including interviews with stakeholders who have experienced or will experience Rob Ford (the brand).
We then overlay that 360 research with demand drivers (why would someone buy the Rob Ford brand?), consumer experience with the Rob Ford brand and marketplace momentum (what's happening in Toronto at large that could affect how we perceive Rob Ford?) -- that's a lot of research.
But in the end, it comes down to one major factor: What is the major brand challenge that is facing Rob Ford and how do we (his fictional Rob Ford rebrand team) overcome that? Sure there is some gap analysis around where Rob Ford is now and where he wants to get (re-elected) and some barriers to success that must be noted, but the major brand challenge is that mother of all issues to overcome if he wants to be successful.
Off I set to do a "flyby" SBA and see what I came up with. Lo and behold, I got nothing -- and not because there hasn't been much written and reported on with regards to the Rob Ford brand, but rather because when I went to do the stakeholder interviews with those good folks who loved and admired the man, I got nothing -- nada.
Sure, I could find lots of people who didn't vote for Rob Ford and in strategy speak, "appear to feel that his consumer value proposition is lacking in authenticity" but I could find no one who would talk positively and on the record about his brand promise, brand assets or where he sits on the brand landscape ....
But, I didn't give up.
I moved to the next stage and soldiered on -- if Ralph Lean sees the value in the Rob Ford brand then, damn it, there must be something to work with here!
A light bulb went off ...
If a brand is a promise, then Rob Ford is golden.
That's how he got elected -- on a promise; a fiscal responsibility promise and the man stayed on message right to the bitter end. He did not sway from his brand promise at any time and those mysterious Torontonians who voted for him came out of their suburban bungalows and headed out to the polls like nobody's business and they got the job done.
So that's the secret to the Rob Ford brand: pick a platform -- a brand promise so to speak -- and stay with it until the victorious end. Then count the votes.
Now we have something to work with as we rebrand Rob Ford for his 2.0 debut.
Concentrate on the brand promise -- we'll have to pick a new one as the last election platform of fiscal belt tightening may be a tad hard to fall back on given what's transpired over the past couple of years.
Solving the urban gridlock by investing in public transit -- nah, that won't work...
Being diligent about attending council meetings, working with council members to get things moving in the GTA -- meh, boring and there are too many high school sporting events that just need his attention.
Gay rights -- old issue, he's at the cottage.
A brand is a promise, a brand is a promise ....
I got it! Let's rebrand Rob Ford the "new urban gunslinger" --a vigilante, out for the little guy, eager to fight the good fight and ready to attend each and every pothole naming in the city.
He'd be perfect -- it plays on his strengths and is a fresh new image for him. Ditch the crumpled suits (they don't fit him all that well anyway) for a pair of jeans, a chambray shirt and a big white hat. Never mind that this is not Calgary -- if they can have a gay Muslim mayor, then we can have a white-hatted one.
I like it and I think that Ralph Lean will like it too.
Rob Ford: Urban Gunslinger. Has a nice ring to it doesn't it?