Home | News

Packaged authenticity: the Thatcher secret

She was straightforward, direct, authentic. But that didnít stop her cleverly allowing herself to be packaged for television to sell her ideas more effectively. Packaged authenticity is the secret of great broadcast communication.

When Mrs Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, she was a shrill member of the lower middle class with crooked teeth, homely hair and silly hats.

By the time she became Prime Minister in 1979 her voice had deepened, she spoke more slowly and more clearly, her teeth were straighter and her hair carefully coiffered.

Hats were out unless they worked in a media opportunity (eg in a factory or a tank) and her clothes were simpler, bolder, reflecting her message.

She knew the power of the moving image to communicate and cut through.

You can see her transformation through a series of clips here:

None of that would have given her victory of course. What resonated then, and what resonates now all these years later, is that she was always authentic. She didn’t say anything she didn’t believe. You knew what she stood for. She was consistent.

No amount of packaging would have worked if there wasn’t that real substance beneath it. But she acknowledged after she left office that even a great product needed selling and she was open to advice and expertise to help her do so. A former TV news producer, Gordon Reece, worked hard to repackage her. A PR and marketing leader, Tim Bell, sharpened up her messages. And then of course Saatchi and Saatchi made their name amplifying the messages through advertising.

Two became Lords and one a knight. Journalism and marketing combined to ally substance with style, the sausage and the sizzle.

The same is true today with Boris Johnson. He’s popular because, even if you disagree with him, you know he’s telling it as he sees it. He doesn’t try to be someone he isn’t – he doesn’t try to dumb down his public school accent, or become smooth. He is now artfully unpackaged - of course much of this is now carefully considered, but there is no question that the person we see is truthfully Boris.

Contrast these rich, colourful personalities with so much of the grey, bland political communication we receive. When many politicians speak we don’t believe them – not even because we disagree, but because they are so carefully nuancing their comments to what they think we want to hear. They have lost their authenticity. The style has replaced the substance.

The lesson: packaged authenticity

I squirm a little to try to take a monumental event like Mrs Thatcher’s death and turn it into a marketing message. But I can’t resist it – the echo is so clear for all of us seeking to engage, market, sell. Big moments like this provide a bright spotlight on some important ideas.

If you are responsible for internal communications and need to make your CEO’s video messages more effective; or for marketing and want to engage customers more fully; or supporting a sales campaign or a bid strategy – have Mrs T in mind when you use video. What are the essential truths; what is the real personality of the person or the brand; how would the people involved actually talk? What does the product really do? Forget powerful sound bites: how can you ensure that something which is inevitably packaged is also authentic?

It’s hard but if you start from that point and make that the benchmark, then it’s more likely that your video communication will be believable.

Even if you have to do the equivalent of straighten some teeth and get rid of the hats. Nothing wrong with a bit of polish, after all.

Here is an example of authenticity that did not result in a party leadership.


Hello Stuart,

I really like your article, thank you!

I have always believed that the greatest leaders are those who have the ability to make difficult decisions and stick to them. Mrs Thatcher was not always popular, but as you said, she stayed true to her vision.

By Cendrine Marrouat on April 14th 2013

Add a Comment

Comments are no longer being accepted for this article.

« Return to News