John Key is doing a shitload of smiling and waving at Te Matatini. No news story is complete without mention of Keys presence at the festival and a cute audio or visual accompaniment. But the question is why bother? This isn’t the A&P festival, it is Te Matatini, meaning National supporters are scarce. But that is the key, National supporters are scarce. Key approaches politics as if it is some sort of glorified marketing exercise. This is all about increasing brand awareness and reaching into a new political marketplace.
Over the past two years Key has attempted to break into the Maori market. Soften the Maori vote so when the political climate generates the right circumstances National can have a serious stab at the Maori vote. To do so Key needs to develop a strong relationship between Maori voters and his brand. This is a huge challenge because brand loyalty must be sufficiently strong as to offset policy sensitivities. Of course John Key will realise this but I tend to think he has underestimated the challenge. How does one build brand loyalty that is so strong that it offsets policy concerns? Well this is how I think John Key is doing it.
First of all Key went for symbolism. He firmly attached his brand to The Maori Party, especially Pita Sharples (in a personal capacity). He also elevated Hekia Parata and advanced Maori policy such as Whanau Ora. This created the perception that Key is not hostile towards Maori aspirations, in fact quite the opposite and he shares the same goals and aspirations as Maori.
The next step, and the most difficult, was personalising Brand Key. The symbolism is there but how will Key reach out to ordinary Maori voters? The answer: by immersing himself in Maori culture (i.e. Te Matatini). The best way to connect with Maori is on a cultural level. Forget class it’s all about cultural identity. This is where Brand Key will earn the trust and respect of Maori. Key creates the image that he shares the same values as Maori.
Of course there is a risk in attaching Brand Key to Maori. His image may become diluted, confused or outright spoilt. However, this is unlikely, It just reinforces the idea that Key is an everyman with the common touch.
In all honesty I am probably overanalysing this. Maybe Key just wanted to laugh at Pita Sharples or have another day off. Either way Labour should take a few lessons from Key on how to reach out to Maori.