No navel-gazing here

News And Views

News & Views

  • 12 July 2016
  • Caroline Trotman-Dickenson

Buses, megaphones and boats down the Thames – welcome to the 1980’s world of political campaigning

Project Fear, scare mongering and a detachment from people north of Watford are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the apparent failings of the EU referendum Remain campaign. With a new PM in the wings and the decision that Brexit means Brexit firmly made, it’s worth pausing to examine how political campaigning can apply the lessons from the very best campaigns we see in the private and not for profit sectors.

Buses, megaphones and boats down the Thames – tactics were reminiscent of 1980’s shoulder-pad politics; centred on broadcasting to an audience, rather than capturing hearts and minds. Looking at the winners of Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2016, it’s not hard to see the power of creativity and technology in reaching mass audiences with socially and politically important messages. We strongly believe in the power of brand-led thinking and earned media, especially when handling sensitive or socially significant issues, building campaigns around three simple things: integration, creativity and people. Here’s our take on where the Remain campaign lost it:

Integration: Not only was there a lack of unity amongst the Remain campaign in terms of messaging from each of the figure heads, but the execution was also misjudged and inconsistent. Cameron’s £9 million pamphlet was met with confusion, and there was more attention on the cost of the leaflet than the content. A truly integrated through the line approach across social, traditional, owned, earned and paid for channels was required – rather than ad hoc mud-slinging.

Creative: The power of creating a campaign that engages the values of the audience is indisputable, especially for engaging a millennial mind-set. Pamphlets, megaphones and big red buses were not going to engage the masses or retain much positive mindshare. Hands down the best and most creative campaigning materials we saw for the Remain campaign were crowd sourced and made by the average Facebooker. Nationally, however, there was no creative campaign built on a killer insight brought alive visually, virtually or in reality.

People: Two people-centred elements were forgotten during the Remain campaign – audience and leadership.

The campaign seemingly forgot it was communicating to people all over the country, of different demographics, with different hopes and fears. Unofficially defining the audience as being within a 30 mile radius of Westminster was a huge mistake, and left people feeling isolated and forgotten. Never more has the importance of regionalising communications been more apparent.

Every story needs the most compelling narrator with passion and pride to step forward. The impact of Gordon Brown in the Scottish referendum is a fresh reminder of this fact. Leadership for the In-crowd was lacking and noisy. Voices and personalities scrambled to be heard. Certainly, the personal agendas and vendettas added to the audience’s desire to tune out. As we know in the corporate world leadership is twofold: the role is to represent and unite, as well as present and narrate. The campaign’s leadership failure was starkly brought home when, on June 24th in the vacuum of communications, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, rose to the fore – with a cool head and clear messaging he filled the void with statesmanlike reassurance.

Arguably, there were major failings by both the Remain and Leave campaigns. Strategy was weak, values corrupt, facts and engagement in decline from start to finish. Desktop demographic audience profiling by the suits overtook psychographic knowledge of the average person in the street.

Whilst everyone involved was tasked with an immense job and a once in a lifetime situation, let’s hope the next time the UK looks to make a significant decision on its future, that a more 21st century approach to campaigning and communications is adopted.