What happens when the anti-establishment becomes part of the establishment? That’s the question Italians are asking themselves as an overwhelming 25 percent voted for the grassroots Five Star Movement (M5S) last weekend. A party of “political outsiders,” its elected parliamentary representatives define themselves by everything typical parliamentarians are not – at least, not in Italy. Namely? Young and honest.
In only three years, M5S has become a political steamroller. Without deep financial pockets, momentum has come from tireless rants and the pungent humor of the party’s leader Beppe Grillo. A former comedian, he amassed political capital with his unmatched rhetoric, winning the hearts and minds of disgruntled Italians who continue to despair at their deeply dysfunctional political system. His main achievement seems to be giving ordinary Italians a chance to vent their frustration and rage peacefully.
Now, poor Beppe is caught in a classic communications dilemma. Remaining true to brand means categorically refusing alliances with any established political force and continuing to win the crowds by criticizing established politicians and cracking jokes. The “outsider approach” might win votes, but it won’t help the country out of a dire economic crisis. With the “Grillo” brand being the anthesisis of sober statesmanship, it might be time for his M5S to think about a rebrand for the party and its leader.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Beppe Grillo. A different style (and a different spokesperson) may be what is needed.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Brand evolution changes with circumstances. Grillo’s stated goal was to give Italian citizens the power to change their own country, but everyone understands this is a long haul – and an unpopular journey. While Grillo did not run for office himself, his M5S has won a seat at the table. With doubts persisting about the party’s ability to effect any real change, the best way to reassure their supporters is to take on the mantle of serious politicians promising to get things done. Coming across as rebels, comics, victims, or dreamers won’t cut it any longer, but speaking in a different tone and style will. Less jokes and rage and more substance will transition the party (and its leader) into the power role they have been handed. Beppe Grillo, as the leader and spokesperson, might want to start the change from the top.