A Marketing Plan For The Sri Lanka’s United National Party

Executive Summary

This report describes a political marketing plan for Sri Lanka’s United National Party to deal with their old-fashioned image in the general public and competition’s eyes. The research draws attention to the fact that people aged between 18-35 make up almost a quarter of the entire population and the youth does not seem to care about being active in the political environment. Also, the ethnicity that prevails is Sinhalese so the target audience is Sinhalese people aged 18-35 years old. Although UNP has a very tight competition with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the UNP has a bigger Youth Front and it should be used for their advantage. It was also acknowledged that Sri Lanka’s population spends more time on the internet (social networks) rather than watching TV which is a very important step when deciding which communications channels to use. With the implementation ideas the number of supporters from the target audience should increase significantly. Our marketing communication plan proposes both personal and non-personal strategies, trying to maximize the effect on the target groups. This work relied on quantitative and qualitative data, duly triangulated for truthfulness and reliability.

Contextual analysis – Objective (Management Issue)

The United National Party (UNP) is a pro-capitalist and liberal conservative political party from Sri Lanka, which has been ruling the government since 2015. Ranil Wickremesinghe is the leader of this political party and therefore the country’s prime minister. The UNP was created on 6th of September 1946 when it united three right-leaning parties from the Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim community. It was established by MR.D S Senanayake, having just left the Ceylon National Congress because he disagreed with some of their aims.

The UNP firstly represented the upper (British social class that lived fully from rental income) and business classes. But then the founder decided to adopt more populist approaches so it would interest the middle class. There was a gradual increase in the number of people that started disliking UNP for its support of minorities. For the next few years, there was several clashes between parties and people from different ethnicities that supported different parties, in which several people passed away. UNP had power from 1977 until 1994 and these were considered the golden decades in UNP. 2001 was considered the year with worst decline economic wise since independence which led UNP to win the elections on the same year. They stayed in the government till 2004, in the meantime there were serious issues with other political parties and their supporters who kept organizing protests. In late 2003 the UNP had to block the president from taking over the National Lotteries board and printing the Gazette, while this was happening the prime minister, Wickremesinghe, was visiting the USA and so Kumaratunga instigated a media attack framing the prime minister as a traitor. On 02nd of April 2004, UNP lost against UPFA (an alliance between SLFP and People’s Liberation Front). Then again, in 2015 the UNP won the parliamentary election by having created before a coalition alliance in 2001 with some parties that it then extended to 7 to create in 2015 the United National Front for Good Governance, including the biggest Muslim Party and the Sinhala Nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya.

In the Parliamentary elections of 2015 around 11,684,111 people voted from the 15,044,490 (77,66% voter turnout), which means around 3 million didn’t vote. However, there is no recent information regarding the voting pattern of the younger generations, elderly or women. The current issue that seems to resurface every time there is a discussion about the United National Party, and the Prime-Minister, is the fact that Ranil Wickremasinghe has been a part of Sri Lanka’s Parliament since 1977, which makes him one of the politics with more years working as a politic in the entire country. Inevitably, making him look and sound old and directly making the United National Party an old party. In this context, the main objective of this marketing plan is to make both UNP and Ranil Wickremasinghe look fresh and dynamic. In the long term, however, the purpose of this marketing plan is to increase the number of supporters of the UNP that have potential to join the Union Youth Front and become loyal to it.

Kotler (2016) says that to get a better grasp of the political and cultural environment it is necessary to analyze their opportunities and threats. Not only this but also the parties’ strengths and weaknesses. Kotler adds that “The goal is to match the company’s strengths to attractive opportunities in the environment, while eliminating or overcoming the weaknesses and minimizing threats.” Therefore, one of UNP’s strengths is the fact that they are currently the ones in charge of the parliament (alongside the rest of the parties that are part of the coalition), not only this but also the fact that Ranil Wickremasinghe is a highly educated present leader, having studied law in University of Ceylon, the only university in Sri Lanka until 1972, he also got an honorary doctorate from Deakin University in 2017. Their weaknesses are the fact that UNP does not have total power over the parliament (because they are in a coalition and also the fact that the competition as a whole can overpower their seats in the parliament. The United National Front for Good Governance has 106 seats while the rest of the parties have 119). Mainly focuses on physical progress of the country rather than Public Human Welfare. The opportunities of the UNP are being the strongest Youth Front in comparison to other political parties. Getting support from Tamil and Muslim which are minorities that UNP has always supported and lastly thanks to Wickramasinghe’s relationships to international leaders it is possible for them to get financial support. The UNP’s threats are the fact that there is a big party in the opposition that has been on and off in the government (Sri Lanka Freedom Party). The lack of interest in politics in the younger generations, very few Sinhala supporters and the fact that Sri Lanka is still a developing country. The only big competition that could go against the UNP would be the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the party who get most votes from the Sinhalese people, but in comparison to the UNP their Youth Front is very small and doesn’t have the potential to grow fast and become more solid like the UNP’s, their first congress for the youth in 13 years was organized last year and their online presence is almost non-existent when UNP’s youth front has almost 30 000 likes on Facebook.


The process of elaborating the entire strategic plan revolves around a controlled and planned platform, established in the high administration of the political organization. The basis is molded by professionals who engage in a linear decision-making process with the ability to plan and implement change.

Most actions are based on the ability of political marketing professionals to predict the movement of competitors and voters in a stable environment. Thus, it is well known that political marketing professionals will follow a carefully crafted and promoted strategy. This strategy contains phases such as identification of segments of the population, segmentation of voters segments, positioning of the party and the implementation of the strategy taken. Nielsen, Sigge Winther (2012), Three faces of political marketing strategy, Journal of Public Affairs, 12 (4): 293- 302.To find a target audience, it is easier to understand that people aged between 15-24 years old made 14,63% of Sri Lanka’s population and people aged between 25-54 make 41.58%, the median age for women being 34 years old and for men 31.5 years old, which in conclusion means that Sri Lanka might be consider a young country. There is a study regarding the Youth and their involvement in political affairs, which regard people between the age of 15 and 29 years old (that makes up to 23% of Sri Lanka’s population), and it is also concludes that not only the majority only engages in voting (72%) but also only around 5% of the youth engages in direct activism.

In the same report it is also possible to conclude that “Student civic and political engagement, generally high in the past, seemed to be declining” Not only does age matter on deciding how to segment our publics, but also ethnicity has a great value when it refers to Sri Lanka’s political and cultural environment mainly due to the fact that Sri Lanka has a very ethno-diverse population, as of 2012 74,9% of Sri Lankan’s are Sinhalese, 11.2% are Sri Lankan Tamils, 9,2% are Sri Lankan Moors, 4.2% are Indian Tamils, and smaller other ethnic groups constitute 0.05%. Because of how diverse Sri Lanka actually is, there has been throughout the years of series of protests and social divisions that directly impacted their politics environment. Their civil war that lasted for more than 25 years seemed to divide permanently Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils, yet major issues in Sri Lanka seem to outweigh this social division. Therefore, voters tend to vote for parties that support people from their ethnicities.

Through the National Youth Survey, it was possible to conclude that certain ethnicities tend to support the same political parties due partly to the fact that these parties ideologies suit their own. The Survey on Democracy in Post-War Sri Lanka shows us which parties are most trusted to each ethnical groups, it was decided that 74% of Sinhalese said the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and 19.8% said the United National Party. 53.9% of Sri Lankan Tamils said Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) while 22.4% said the UNP. 42.7% of Indian Tamils said the UNP and 22.9% said the Ceylon Workers Congress.

Considering that the main goal of this marketing plan is to make UNP look younger, the plan concerns mainly people aged between 18-35 years old (which would be considered part of the young generations). Kotler (2016) expresses that “Marketers rarely limit their segmentation analysis to only one or a few variables”, therefore the main target of this political marketing plan would be Sinhalese (Demographic segmentation that includes age and ethnicities) as they are the ones who support UNP the least from the research done. When a business organization wants to serve more than one target group, it will be effective by differentiating its product offerings and the channels of communications. Each groups require differentiated appeals and frequency of solicitation (different media channels for each target audience). What differentiates and positions UNP from other parties is the fact that they are the most present online party from Sri Lanka, not only this but also the fact that UNP cares deeply and has established many organizations for the youth.

Marketing Communication Plan

Being considered an outdated party is regarded as a weakness in nowadays political environment. Every political party needs to keep up with the world and in this specific case Sri Lanka’s society. As mentioned before, this marketing plan’s objective is to modernize the United National Party, showing the general public that it is more diversified, dynamic, modern, forward-looking and unified. To achieve this, to get to the target audiences of this plan (younger Sinhalese generations), it is necessary mainly to focus on non-traditional media so the party can be active everywhere. To establish, promote and share U NP’s views and image it is necessary to get a general knowledge of every channel that can be used in an efficient way. After some research it was possible to conclude that Sri Lankans pay most attention to newer forms of media, which means the Internet (websites, social media, video and audio streaming). Social media websites that Sri Lankans mostly use are in fact Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. However, in comparison to traditional media, in terms of statistics, there’s a very low number of people that receives information through these outlets.

Around 5.4 million people are on Facebook, Instagram has around 700,000 active users and 12,000 on Twitter. When it comes to traditional media, there’s 4.8 million households with television, the newspaper that sells the most is Lankadeepa (weekly newspaper) and it manages to sell around 580,000 copies with each publication. The UNP Party have a very strong message that links the young generations and renovation of the party. UNP’s aim is to show that they can grow with the generations and keep up to date with every type of issues that concern the youth. Ranil Wickremesinghe also joined the United Youth Front when he was a university student he got other positions in the political environment until he got to be the leader of the UNP. UNP also created the Mahapola Scholarship Scheme for young people with economical difficulties which doesn’t allow them to study at university. The UNP hopes that younger generations have a better future and become true supporters.

To persuade our target audience we propose to act on different communication channels. It’s possible to divide the communication channels in two broad types: personal and non-personal. For personal communication channels, we propose:

  • Holding appointments in every village where the public could come and give their recommendations on what to improve; this would be a great way to get personal feedback to the party and analyze their suggestions to make improvements.
  • Integrating younger people in the political environment of UNP by creating in every Law School in the country clubs/societies where students would have access to UNP’s debates or political events; this way it would be possible to motivate them to foresee their future within political action of the Youth Front.
  • For non-personal communication channels, we propose:

  • Giving TV interviews and writing press releases to younger news media outlets. Channels like TV Derana, Sirasa, CSN are viabe options to reach our audience. The press releases would be shared on Tharuni, Tharunaya, Ada, Ceylon Today and Diwayina
  • Organizing a music festival, that would allow the visitors to know UNP’s ideologies and create interactions between supporters and the party through talks, workshops within an entertaining enviroment. It would allow young, small bands to participate and get an audience too.
  • Be strongly active on Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram). Following the latest trends would captivate the target audience’s attention and also becoming more active to grow the following.
  • Celebrity endorsement through invitation of different people who have participated before in the different organization UNP has already established before.
  • Fundraising for youth charities. UNP wants to help everyone’s personal growth into helping the country economy therefore, the party can participate in any sort of fundraising/charity event for younger people to help Sri Lanka’s future.
  • Political summer camps in which younger people for several days can learn more about the political environment. We want to combine both leisure, education and politics in one, in order to motivate and help the youth following their own political path.
  • Biweekly free magazine with UNP news to target every kind of audience.
  • UNP also has an app that needs to be updated daily with news inside the party and persuade people to use it so the party has a better understanding who are their supporters and their own characteristics. With all these suggestions for implementation, indirectly there will be earned media where there won’t be a need to send press releases and be on live television because there will be media coverage at events or other efforts the party has tried to make.


Our target audience is people aged between 18-35 years old that are Sinhalese which means the older generations and/or people from minorities that have been always supporting the UNP can feel left out. However, UNP’s ideologies as a party will remain the same and it will still protect minorities’ rights as before.


To carry out the marketing plan several sources have been used, verifying the data truthfulness and reliability. As for the type of information, we used both quantitative (statistical) and qualitative data. Regarding the qualitative data, which was where we have relied mostly, we analyzed current news, academic articles, UNP’s website, its social networks and competitors.


This work addressed the problem of the Sri Lanka’s United National Party old-fashioned image to the general public and competition’s eyes by establishing a marketing plan that will allow to overcome this drawback. The history and current political context where analyzed and a SWOT analyses was undertaken. Departing from this analysis we achieve to develop a marketing communication plan that, hopefully, will improve the image of the party, mainly regarding the target groups identified. With this work we were able to understand how a supposed political problem can be addressed as a management problem and solved through a marketing approach.

13 January 2020
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