Most political campaigns in living memory have tapped into our fears, pandered to our prejudices and prophesised society’s downfall if you vote the wrong way
We’re weeks away from the biggest political decision many of us will ever make, but the EU referendum has so far failed to capture the public’s imagination in the way of, say, the US presidential election. Why is that?
It boils down to hope and fear. Two very powerful feelings with two very different outcomes. As we’ve all seen, Trump’s message of hope - dubious though it may seem to some - has lit a fire under people.
What do we have? Paunchy, middle-aged men, representing both the remain and leave camps, force-feeding us fear like ducks being fattened up for foie gras.
We’ll be thousands of pounds worse off. We’ll be overrun with migrants. The NHS will be reduced to ashes. Etc. Less land of hope and glory, more isle of dread and doom. How did we end up here?
In political advertising, there’s one very clear benchmark. ‘Labour isn’t working’. Simple. Single-minded. Powerful. Memorable. All the things an ad should be. But as brilliant as it is, those three words have largely set the tone ever since.
With the exception of (New) Labour in 1997, most political campaigns in living memory have tapped into our fears, pandered to our prejudices and prophesised society’s downfall if you vote the wrong way.
It’s a wonder any of us make it out from under the duvet to the polling booth. It’s also no wonder that voter turnout is predicted to be just 57% (according to the Electoral Reform Society).
So how do the Brexit campaigns’ shortfalls relate to the wider context of brand marketing? Going back to the benchmark provides some answers - and crucially, flags up one tactic to avoid.
The three crucial factors
First, single-mindedness. Marketers need to focus on one, key aspect, whether that’s the thing people care about more than anything or expressing a complex subject with a single, simple thought.
When first time gun buyers went into the store, they met a very uncomfortable truth; being told which mass shooting, unintentional shooting or murder each gun was used in
Whatever it is, that message needs to be hammered relentlessly. An obvious example perhaps, but Red Bull’s ‘Gives You Wings’ is as simple and clear a proposition as you can get, and is delivered through all their activity, from Formula 1 to Flugtag, not to mention the product itself.
Second, memorability. Bring your campaign to life in a way people can’t forget.
States United to Prevent Gun Violence did just that with their ‘Gun Store’ in New York. It shot right through the heart of the belief that owning a gun makes you safer.
When first time gun buyers went into the store, they met a very uncomfortable truth; being told which mass shooting, unintentional shooting or murder each gun was used in. Never has a product looked so unappealing.
Rather than trying to reach everyone, the campaign spoke directly to the very people who needed to hear the message most. And delivered it in a way they won’t forget anytime soon.
Third, positivity. As we’ve seen, both campaigns have been overwhelmingly negative; while that tone might have done the job in 1979, today's scare tactics have led to mass confusion and - worse - apathy. Both those factors are the scourge of marketers.
Like an inverse ‘Labour isn’t working’, The Always brand campaign, ‘Like a Girl’, proves the point of why it pays to be positive. It doesn’t just turn an age-old insult into an empowering, relevant message. It totally crushes the stereotype.
With less than two months until the vote, both camps need to stop their race to the bottom and embrace hope. It’s a natural, human desire to want a better, brighter future. Security, stability, freedom, peace: who doesn't want those things? And after all, it's far easier to sell what people already want.