Metal Fatigue? Or a Tired Brand? (Co-Authored Dr. Ece Ilhan)
After resuming the chairmanship of AKP in May 2017, President Erdoğan spoke of a “metal fatigue” within the party and instructed an extensive change in the party organization.
What does Erdoğan mean by metal fatigue? Is it really a useful analogy? Encyclopaedia Britannica defines metal fatigue as:
“Metal fatigue, weakened condition induced in metal parts of machines, vehicles, or structures by repeated stresses or loadings, ultimately resulting in fracture under a stress much weaker than that necessary to cause fracture in a single application.”
Blame it on the ‘metal fatigue’!
By metal fatigue, Erdoğan refers to the party’s institutional and members’ tiredness and exhaustion after a 16 years long ruling party period. Whether Erdoğan really deems AKP and his fellows as tired and fragile is a pondering question. Yet, Erdoğan’s use of the analogy was majorly strategic to address the reasons behind his and his party’s slim-margin win in the most recent constitutional referendum. Rather than reflecting on the resonance of his message and his ideas with the voter base, he blamed his and AKP’s eroding performance in the last two-three elections all on the fellows of his party. Acting on his metal fatigue diagnosis right away, he started to make some drastic changes. He renewed the cabinet, changed the provincial administrations of AKP, and replaced the mayors of the prominent metropolitan cities of Turkey that have majorly voted ‘no’ in the referendum (e.g., Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa, Balıkesir). In so doing, he wanted to refresh the brand of his party and of his team and also sustain his claim on the ‘novelty’ of his party’s ideological stance among all the other current political options.
There are several possible reasons underlying Erdogan’s ‘metal fatigue’ diagnosis, exploration of which are behind the scope of this write-up. It is very likely that AKP fellows and parliament members feel exhausted and not as dynamic after 16 years of continuous ruling party governance. Similarly, the AKP party is not perceived as much future oriented and dynamic compared to the start of its journey in early 2000s. As a rule of thumb, the incumbent parties almost always experience less favorable perceptions as a result of their time in governance.
Yet, as we quickly approach to the first election of the new Presidential system on June 24th, this metal fatigue analogy does not provide enough of insights to understand or solve the problems both Erdoğan and AKP are experiencing in their campaigns. In this write up, we suggest a different diagnosis to navigate the campaign problems commonly expressed in the media regarding brands of AKP and Erdoğan. Erdoğan thinks the success in the new elections depend on renovating the AKP party and its brand . We disagree. The metal fatigue concept ignores the deterioration of one of the major assets of the AKP movement: the brand of Erdoğan. Any analysis or diagnosis that doesn’t discuss the eroding of strong Erdoğan brand is incomplete.
Diagnosis: Brand Fatigue
Although President and AKP leader Erdoğan unhesitatingly points his finger to the benches of AKP party for the decline in his party’s performance in recent elections, we claim that the reason for the decreasing voter support for the party is not only due to metal fatigue but rather a brand fatigue of his leader. Not only due to a tired and exhausted AKP party base but also a exhausted Erdoğan brand.
How did Erdogan’s brand get this tired? Erdoğan is well aware of the fact that he has a strong brand and also a stronger brand than his own party. His over reliance on polls and market research has showed and convinced him over the years that he has higher approval rates compared to that of AKP and higher name awareness even in the deepest and most secluded parts of Anatolia. Knowing the value of his brand , Erdogan frequently leveraged his brand assets to weigh in to situations, resolve conflicts, and change the narratives in domestic political issues. This overuse and careless utilization of his brand’s assets depleted his brand and made it tired. A good analogy to understand the overuse or overextension of a brand would be the overstretching of a pizza dough. If the dough is stretched further and in various directions, it will get thinner and will have holes in it.
Below we identify two out of several patterns regarding how Erdoğan used his brand lavishly and extravagantly in some political events and has consumed it.
Brand Fatigue Reason 1:
The pendulum – Erdoğan’s quick and frequent changes in between extreme political positions regarding important topics has exhausted his brand. His back and forth movement between these extreme positions about elections wears out his brand value. His copius use of his brand to build support for each of these conflicting positions dissipates his brand’s assets.
Example 1: “no to elections, yes to elections”
Since day one, Erdoğan has been against the idea of early elections. In one of his speeches in 2009 in the parliamentary group, he clearly expressed that “early elections was a sign of underdevelopment “ and reminded that the elections would be “carried out right on time as the constitution sets.” He also repeatedly emphasized that upcoming elections that would pave the way for the full implementation of executive presidency model would be hold on its scheduled time, November 2019. Although, Erdoğan and his government repeatedly rejected the possibility of an early election, he joined the call of Devlet Bahçeli, leader of minor party of People’s alliance and defended his decision by stating the argument of Turkey’s urgent need to switch to the new system.
Example 2: Solution roadmap, no roadmap
Kurdish issue has been one of the most controversial subjects of Turkish Republic history and that of the AKP government. As a result of Erdoğan’s instructions, the issue was on the brink of striking a deal. MIT (Turkish Intelligence Agency), senior bureaucrats from different ministries were involved in the process of outlining a roadmap to detail a solution. As a result, a ceasefire period of more than 2 years has been implemented. Yet, Erdoğan terminated the negotiations on 2016 and returned to security-based politics.
Brand Fatigue Reason 2 :
Nothing is impossible – Erdogan’s pragmatic approach to partnerships destabilize his brand. This pragmatic approach of ends justifying the means reinforces the idea that Erdogan could build and leverage any type of relations and partners and deteriorates his brand. These many different partnerships around his brand confuse and drain his brand assets.
Example 1: ‘My brother Abdullah Gül is our candidate’
AKP’s effort to elect one of its own to be president literally provoked a crisis. Since, Abdullah Gül has roots in Islamic movement and his spouse’s hijab triggered a chaotic response in Turkey. Thousands of secular people organized mass rallies, Chief of General Staff released an e-memorandum on his website, and a referendum has been carried out to change constitution and elect president by popular vote. Lastly, on 28th August 2007 Abdullah Gül became the 11th President of the Republic of Turkey.
Example 2: Gül out of family
In October 2012, the Presidential Election Law has been passed at the parliament with AKP votes including the obstruction of former presidents to re-run. Obviously, the article was not for Ahmet Necdet Sezer, definitively it was pointing out stopping Gül. His term would be over on August 28, 2014 and AKP party congress was scheduled just one day before in order to prevent him to step back in the party. The same pattern can also be seen in the replacement of majors in major cities, which he was very supportive since the start of his political career.
These examples and patterns can be proliferated. Especially, consumers’ exhaustion with Erdoğan brand as a result of over and extended exposure deserve a blog by itself. Without bogging in details, we just wanted to communicate the brand fatigue approach as a different vantage point in assessing the current political marketing situations and problems AKP and Erdoğan is facing in their election campaigns. Our approach is particularly useful to understand the widening performance discrepancy between the AKP party and the support for Erdoğan as the presidential candidate. In efforts to bridge this gap, Erdoğan adopts a strategy of elevating the AKP brand using the metal fatigue philosophy. Building on our brand fatigue argument, we would suggest that closing the discrepancy between the brand of AKP and that of Erdoğan might not be the best one given the fast approaching elections. A better strategy for Erdoğan that could be applied in shorter times would be to fortify his own brand and use it as the locomotive pulling the AKP brand up as well. In the interest of short time till Jun 24th, that is a more viable and effective strategy.
Co-authored with Ece Ilhan