Thursday, 9 February 2017

How the Remain campaign broke all the rules of advertising

So last night parliament voted that we would trigger Article 50 with none of the amendments proposed - including amendments that would guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and protect the Good Friday agreement. 

There’s a lot of anger flying around today. A lot of people angry with Corbyn and Labour, a lot of people angry with May and the Tories, a lot of people angry with UKIP and Farage. And, I imagine, a lot of people are thrilled with May and the Tories and with UKIP and Farage and, to be honest, ambivalent about Corbyn and Labour. 

I’m angry, though. And today I am particularly angry with David Cameron for calling the blasted referendum in the first place - a man whose arrogance and hubris led him to stake the future of the country on an internal party battle that barely anyone outside of the Commons Back Benches gave a flying fuck about. 

And I’m angry with the Remain gang for their lack-lustre, doom-laden campaign in the run-up to the 23rd June. I’m angry with them because they could have won the referendum. They just needed to hire a decent advertising agency. 

So here is my post about how I could have won the EU Referendum, if the Remain campaign had hired a fundraising copywriter from Bristol

I’d start with this picture:

This is a picture of me and my niece the day she was born. My sister-in-law is Romanian. Thanks to the free movement of people, my beautiful niece and nephew are in my life. My family is made richer because of the EU. My nephew’s school is made brighter with him in it. In the future, my niece and nephew will get jobs that will bring money into the UK economy. Already, their childish needs are causing us all to spend money (mostly on lego) - strengthening the UK economy. Who knows what their futures will hold, who knows what contributions they will make to our country. 

Who knows what futures in the UK will be lost now, when we leave the EU and new families can’t be made, new romances will never blossom, new babies will not be born and new futures will not develop and grow. 

In the 2012 film NO starring the delightful Gael Garcia-Bernal, Chile calls a referendum on whether Pinochet should stand down. The No campaign (calling for Pinochet to go) immediately start putting ads together showcasing the terrible human rights abuses perpetuated by the Chilean government. They put together showreels of mass graves and torture prisons. It was horrible. It was depressing. It was never going to win votes. 

Enter Gael Garcia-Bernal. He proposed a campaign that would show what life would be like without Pinochet. He shot films of families having wonderful days out. He created a vision of freedom. He suggested a better world, a happier world, where everyone had a voice and a life of their own to live and love. He promised a better future. 

'No' won the referendum. 

People voted for a better future. 

This is what the Remain campaign should have done. 

Not just a picture of my niece. 

But a case study of a cancer patient whose life-saving treatment was funded by EU money. 

Of a crime survivor whose perpetrator was arrested thanks to cross EU participation. 

Of an artist or writer or film maker whose work was produced with the help of EU funds.

Of a farmer who was able to expand their agriculture business because of EU subsidies. 

Of a student completing a placement in Venice. 

Of a worker collaborating with a team in Bucharest. 

Of a pensioner enjoying retirement in Spain. 

Of a couple finding their way around France using 3G without roaming charges. 

They should have celebrated how being part of Europe enriched the UK. They should have told the positive story. The story of families brought together, of jobs created, of creative arts enriched, of science advanced.

They should have sold us a future we could believe in and vote for. 

The EU wasn’t perfect. Isn’t perfect. Remain and reform - that’s what was needed (although my reforms probably not the ones Cameron was after). And I know my layers of protective privilege mean that I have not been impacted by the problems EU membership can cause.  

But the Remain campaign did nothing to tell us why we should stay in the EU. All they did was tell us how much we would suffer if we left. They were giving us the mass graves of the Chilean campaign, while the Leave guys played the Gael-Garcia Bernal game. 

Having worked in advertising for nearly a decade, I have learnt a thing or two. And one of the things we all know is that you don’t try and sell things by telling people how bad everything is. You don’t sell a car by saying the other cars are shit. You sell a car by making people think that the car will make them better, sexier, cooler, faster, dreamier. You sell on the benefits of your car, not the failings of the competitor.  

The same applies for fundraising advertising. Sometimes you fundraise with upsetting images or heartbreaking stories. But successful fundraising never leads on ‘give now or the kid gets it.’ You tell a positive story about what a person’s donation can achieve. You tell them about the child’s transformed life - you show them the difference school can make, you show a child happy and healthy drinking clean water. You don’t say everything will be awful if you don’t give. You say everything will be better if you do give. 

The Remain campaign broke every single simple rule of advertising. They led on dire predictions. They sold Remain as the lesser of two evils. Rather than selling Remain as something that would be good for the UK, they focused on how Leave would be bad for the UK. 

No one votes for something because it might be shit but probably not as shit as the other thing. No one buys a car because it might break down but probably won’t break down as much as the other one. No one gives to charity because the kid might die but then again she might not. 

You vote for something because you believe it will bring a better future. You buy a car because you think it’ll make you look better. You give to charity because you believe it’ll transform a life. 

Of course, a better ad campaign would not have changed the minds of those determined to vote Brexit. But there were people who were on the fence, who might have had their minds changed to Remain. They were let down by a weak, lack lustre, doom-laden advertising campaign. They were not given something to vote for. 

As we face a Tory Hard Brexit, I feel so angry with how badly the Remain campaign let this country down with their predictions of World War Three and economic meltdown. 

It would have been so easy to tell the positive story of Remain. To celebrate the EU and good things it brings. 

They failed. 

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