The making of Putin’s brand
Written by Lise Pernin, Design by Monika Mońko
Promoting one’s personal brand in politics has been common in today’s political environment. With Trump’s inauguration on the 20th January, we can reflect on the strong impact a better communication with the electorate can have (cf. This is why Trump won).
Another politician has been renown for his efficient self-marketing: Vladimir Putin, the current Russian president. Creating a lasting image in the public’s mind is a continuous process that needs to evolve alongside society. For Putin, it all started with the 2000 election. He was not known by the mass at the time, with his KGB career. This was very fortunate for his Public Relations (PR) team, as it provided them with a “blank canvas” to work with. Political marketing was thus greatly used during his campaign.
Despite being handpicked by Yeltsin as his next heir, Putin’s image had to be differentiated from the previous president. Indeed, the latter was negatively associated with corruption, alcoholism and much more, in the public’s eye. Putin had to promote himself as different. First of all, he had to move away from the chaos that had tarnished the end of Yeltsin’s presidency. After the 2nd Chechen war, Russians sought stability. In a poll, 1/3 answered that they were ready to give up some of their freedom if it meant securing further stability. Putin understood their aspiration as he made it one of his goals along with law and order. In addition, the focus was also drawn on Putin’s youth and dynamism. He was able to appeal to Russians in a very efficient manner and talk to their nationalist sentiment. Putin also distanced himself from the Moscow-centric model by traveling around Russia. The aim was to promote the fact that he valued everyone. He reinforced this by dining with an ordinary Kazan family, reflecting a positive image of a politician close to his people’s problems. Putin also visited a women factory in Ivanovo. By doing so he showed that he valued female voters. This process of courting such a constituency was never undertaken by Yeltsin. Putin also portrayed himself as an effective commander in chief by spending a night on a nuclear submarine as well as flying a military jet over Chechnya.
Honesty was also something that Putin wished to emphasize. After all, do we all not wish to have truthful politicians that will make realistic plans for our future? Putin did not actually follow this path, however. Rather than displaying a program, he published an open letter to his voters. In his text, he outlined the different problems Russia was facing. Nevertheless, he did not offer any concrete solutions and merely promised he would work on it. That was a masterful move on his part. He did not make unrealistic promises that would be very hard to keep like it is often the case in current politics. By doing so, the public would not hold him accountable if some of his policies failed.
All of these facts indicate that Putin and his PR team did a master job in creating a very positive image of the politician. All was done to seduce Russian populace. Mass media was the channel chosen to promote the created image. With 90% Russians indicating that TV was their main source of political news, this was an excellent choice. Putin also managed his image perfectly after having shaped it in the way he desired. Indeed, he avoided risky media environment by refusing televised debates and by choosing most of his interviews. He secured a positive coverage which only enhanced the public opinion of him.
In conclusion, political marketing is a powerful tool in nowadays politics. One can argue that it challenges voters’ rationality as it tends to accentuate the importance of perception and rhetoric over the substance of the program itself. Everything is about the relationship the candidate can create with his electorate. Thus, we can assume that a politician now needs to be a skillful marketer in order to succeed.