In Branded, Erik Saelens, strategic director of Brandhome, describes the course of the N-VA campaign in the run-up to the mother of all Belgian elections on May 25, 2014. His personal account offers a suspenseful and above all disconcerting view from the inside of how opposing forces in the media, politics, culture and business actively worked against the N-VA, against Brandhome and against Saelens himself. In the face of these powerful crosscurrents, the N-VA nevertheless went on to achieve unprecedented electoral success and set new standards of political marketing and communication in Belgium.
Erik Saelens (40) is the strategic director of Brandhome, the agency behind the 2014 election campaign of the N-VA. That campaign was for him a professional and personal turning point. Professionally, he set a new standard for political marketing and communication in Belgium. Personally, Erik experienced the darkest moment of his life. He wrote the book 'Branded' to tell the story.
WHAT'S THE BOOK ABOUT?
"Branded is based on the logbook that I kept since the first day of the 2014 N-VA election campaign. It describes my professional and personal experiences during this campaign and how the whole strategy, the whole concept and the whole plan behind it was formed. Many aspects are covered: from coming up with the slogan 'Change for Progress', to the yellow V-gnomes, to the 25 Commitment movies with the N-VA members and to the 'new-to-politics-in-Belgium' social media approach. The book contains only a fraction of all the notes I made, but it gives an authentic picture of this unique period of time so the reader gets the emotion of the moment. You not only get to know me as craftsman but also as father and as citizen. I confront the reader with the true story of what I experienced, however astonishing, pleasant or surprising."
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN?
"It was not what I originally intended. But I kept a so-called content & contact log from day one. That's standard procedure for highly sensitive projects. Somehow I must have known then that our campaign for the N-VA was going to be a special story. In the weeks after the Party Congress in full campaign, not only the N-VA, but also Brandhome and me personally, came under fire. It was then I decided to write the book because what I saw and experienced in the 2014 election campaign is abhorrent. I felt more opposition during that campaign than in my entire professional career. For me it was living proof that change in this country, in all areas and at all levels, is vital."
WHAT'S THE SECRET BEHIND THE SUCCESS OF THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN?
"Daring to think differently. The power and willingness of both the N-VA and the Brandhome team to leave classical communication frameworks and thinking patterns behind led to direct conversations with the voters. With this fresh, out-of-the-box thinking we set the direction not only for the N-VA campaign, but also for the entire 2014 election. The N-VA set the agenda for everyone. And the other parties didn't get it until it was too late. They were so busy working on every level against the N-VA that they did not realize they were strengthening our campaign. All this opposition only made the N-VA campaign stronger. It will go down in the history of Belgian political marketing as a prime example of a failed 'everyone against' strategy that just convinced voters to choose for the N-VA, not against it."