'Farage and the bogeymen': how UKIP became a cult brand

UKIP's simple tale of us vs them and blanket media coverage ensured Nigel Farage's rocket to the top of UK politics.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 23 Sep 2014

UKIP’s meteoric rise, from fringe party to winners of this year’s European Parliament elections, took pretty much everyone by surprise – even its own diehard supporters couldn’t seem to believe their luck.

Westminster politicians scrabbled around with their spin doctors, before trotting out feeble responses, while the commentariat went into navel-gazing overdrive over-interpreting the enormous swing in public opinion. But aside from the blanket media coverage devoted to Nigel Farage and his band of merry men, there is a very simple reason UKIP did so well: it told a good story.

So hardly surprising the party came 11th in a ranking of 105 ‘storytelling’ brands in the UK - just ahead of household names like Samsung, Facebook and Guinness.

‘UKIP has rocketed into public consciousness over the last few months. Partly because of the airtime the party has been given and partly because the UKIP story is, in pure narrative terms, a good one,’ said Ed Woodcock, director of branding agency Aesop, which commissioned the survey.

‘It has a strong central character (Nigel Farage) and very clear bogeymen (the political establishment and Brussels) whom they blame for rampant immigration and disorientating change.’

It is yet another sign the other political parties need to get their act together if they’re to remain relevant and sell the EU to a sceptical public. UKIP came out top among the parties for credibility, in the survey of 2,015 adults. In the overall rankings, the Green Party was the next highest at 64th, while Labour was 72nd, Conservatives 89th and the Lib Dems languished in 93rd place.

Farage may fail to keep up momentum, though. ‘UKIP will struggle to keep this narrative coherent if it feels compelled to draw up policies in more areas. Its current story only has legs for as long as it remains a party of protest,’ Woodcock said.

Apple topped the survey for the second year running, in part because it was the brand people most thought ‘creates its own world’. Close behind it was Cadbury - a sign the heritage British brand is still strong despite being gutted by the Kraft takeover. In third place was McDonald’s (look out for a feature in MT’s upcoming July/August issue on its turnaround in the UK since the Supersize Me era), followed by Ikea and Walkers crisps.

Source: Aesop Agency

Meanwhile, the bottom 10 in the rankings reads like a who’s who of populist footballs and make for a sorry story of bad branding: much-maligned energy and water companies, the hapless Co-Op and those feckless banks.

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