Has the Sunak Samba saga sealed PM's election fate?

The Prime Minister has been ridiculed for sinking the reputation of a popular brand of trainer, but is it his own personal brand and the election fortunes of the Tory Party that are now floating to the bottom of the sea?

11 April 2024 | 3 min read | PR
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak united the nation earlier this week, but perhaps not in the way he would have wanted.

Donning a pair of Adidas Samba pumps whilst wearing suit trousers and a white shirt during an interview at Number 10 to promote his tax policies ahead of the upcoming election, the Prime Minister outraged fashionistas and the media alike.

Source credit: Instagram/@elent_finance
How did the media report the story?

GQ wrote: “Sunak took an eternally cool sneaker and ruined it for everyone.”

The Observer said: “Adidas Sambas were this year’s coolest shoes — until Rishi Sunak got a pair.” Ouch!

The Telegraph led with the headline: “How Rishi killed off the biggest trainer trend in one fell swoop.”

Very superstitious: Is the writing on the wall?

This is not the first time that Mr Sunak has faced a media backlash for his choice of footwear. In 2022, he showed up to a building site wearing a £490 pair of Prada shoes whilst on the campaign trail to become the next leader of the Tory party. He eventually lost to Liz Truss.

And here he is again for the second time in two years deep in campaign mode and facing a backlash over his choice of footwear. Mr Sunak lost out on winning the job he now has in 2022, and this time around he’s campaigning to save it and somehow keep the party he leads in power for another term.

The superstitious among you would be forgiven for thinking that the writing is on the wall for the PM – two shoe incidents in two years during two campaigns. So, is another defeat looming for the Prime Minister? Possibly. Probably.

Although I am not superstitious, I do love the idea that a pair of pumps could somehow play a part in seeing off the Conservatives at the election ballot 😉

Joking aside, there is a serious PR element to all of this. Time to get serious now and talk ‘reputational impact.’

Reputational impact?

To the question of reputation and the impact of Sunak’s Samba. We have to understand if he trying too hard to come across as relatable? Did he present himself as “young and hip”, as The Telegraph’s article suggests? For many, this is subjective.

But from a reputation management perspective, it feels too contrived. Consequently, it lacks authenticity. This in turn will likely have widened the gap between him and the Party he represents, and the electorate that he sorely needs to get on side – especially young voters.

This later point is important because, according to a study 71% of 18-25 year olds don’t feel that political parties and candidates speak directly to young people enough in the lead-up to elections.

Research published in a 2017 paper for The Journal of Public Economics shows voters judge leaders on their appearance – especially when they have little information about them or their Party’s politics. Like it or not, the way in which we all present ourselves has an influence on how people perceive us.

Personally, I think he came off looking like a bit of an eejit. What do you think?

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