A master marketer
The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the party founded by Quebec Premier François Legault, will celebrate its tenth anniversary next month. The Caquistes have much to celebrate. They’ll also be running for re-election in a year. While that’s an eternity in politics, the odds are clearly in the CAQ’s favour as the main opposition parties, the Parti Québécois and the Liberals, struggle to remain relevant.
In just ten years, the party and its leader have become a force to reckon with. Elected in 2018 in a landslide victory winning 74 of 125 seats, it did so with only 37.4 per cent of the vote, the lowest vote share on record for a party winning a majority government. It now gets 47 per cent of voting intentions, according to a recent Léger poll. Legault is so confident about the future that he publicly mused about staying on as leader for a third mandate.
The businessman turned politician is still all business. He strategizes like a business leader, talks like an accountant, and promotes his brand like a marketer.
That’s a rare combination for a party leader, one that shouldn’t be underestimated. Former Premier Jean Charest did when the CAQ was officially launched: “He had a whole year to reflect on what his plan would be and the only thing he has to say is, ‘We’ll see.’ That’s it.”
Exploiting a white space: A white space is a gap in an existing market. Legault found a hole in the market where no one operated. He determined there would be a market (voters) in that hole. The unmet need in this white space was best summed up by humorist Yvon Deschamps: “Quebecers want an independent Quebec in a strong and united Canada.” The CAQ has effectively coalesced sovereignists and federalists.
The party defines itself as a nationalist, autonomist and conservative party. While Legault wants no talk of referendums on independence, autonomy is his mantra. And he runs the province like an ac- countant focused on economic nationalism. He co-opted the Parti Québécois’ raison d’être and the Liberals’ economic stewardship, and blended them into the CAQ’s brand positioning. Perhaps testing a theme for the upcoming campaign, Legault recently referred to the CAQ as “la gauche efficace” (the efficient left).
Unscripted authenticity: Despite having been a drama teacher, Justin Trudeau can come across as scripted. A truly authentic leader comes across as speaking off the cuff even if every word is carefully chosen. Legault, with his folksy charm, may at times go too far for many — like telling them how to vote during the last federal election.
Still, like that nice uncle who sometimes crosses the line, he’s soon forgiven. It’s no wonder one in two Quebecers say Legault is the party leader they’d want to have a beer with, according to the same Léger poll.
Political adman: The premier believes in the power of advertising to get his message across and build his brand. When Legault announced his strategy for a more aggressive ad campaign to fight the pandemic, he said he wanted to put more of a human face on the advertising: “If we are able to have, on television, victims, real cases of people who can explain how hard getting COVID was, it might sensitize people who still think there is no risk.” He sounded like the province’s chief advertising strategist.
Same with the just-released $1.4 million campaign promoting the French language. The ads are likely aimed at those who think French-language Bill 96 goes too far or not far enough, or both. No one seems to view this as public funds used for partisan advertising. And opposition parties won’t want to oppose efforts to promote French ahead of an election.
Legault has achieved a branding tour de force. So far, Quebec voters are buying it. However, as skilled a marketer as Legault is, he should remember that brand loyalty is simply the absence of something better.