Martin Larkin, Director Ogilvy & Mather
There is a word for this brand name, its called Neologism. You would imagine that the alleged Communication strategists that invented Brexit would make it work. In reality it did but not in the intended way. The communication battle to stay was lost. From the start of this inactive communications programme only the Brexit brand name dominated the agenda.
Brexit was always about leaving, not surprising when the last four letters spell EXIT.
Political campaigns and political Referendum campaigns always need to be continuously managed to ensure that the focus stays on point.
Here in Ireland, where we are no strangers to Referendum campaigns, you will remember that the surprise turn the Divorce campaign took was cunningly directed toward property rights and succession and we all know the emotive impact they can have. Funny enough the argument came down to money, a long way from the way it started and all the conservative fears the pro side had. Careful management of the strategy secured success for them.
A referendum is about a single decision. The biggest decisions we make in our lives are mainly made on the emotional side rather than the rational, like getting married or buying a house.
As this campaign went into free fall, the brand Brexit was allowed to float but was not supported by either of the main Political Parties in the UK. The fringe Parties then exploited the gap by instilling fear to support the exit from The European Union.
The exit campaign was dominated by promoting the strengths of the UK and its ability to stand alone in order to be great, a difficult point or aspiration to vote against. So even though exit was the start of a journey into the unknown, it offered hope in a perverse way.
This played right into the hands of the anti EU supporters, the non informed and the “don’t knows”. The New Political Brands of Remain and Brexit confused the electorate due to lack of clarity and understanding.
The communications campaign was mismanaged to such an extent that Brexit was allowed to become code for racism. This then became the strong emotional drive for job protection and immigration and allowed the stand alone dynamic to resonate. There are few stronger emotional triggers than race, job protection and identity to motivate people and generate strong opinion. These are things we know even to our cost.
As this started to dominate it was clear that the Remain campaign was out of control and Brexit would become a reality. The neglect of the Remain side caused this. The die was already cast. Brand Brexit was allowed to be hijacked by minority interests that were more internal Party Political than national.The original Communication strategy and subsequent implantation not alone lacked control, it lacked direction.
Fundamentally the Remain brand was totally devoid of emotion. In other words the Remain brand did not offer any consumer benefit for a bigger, safer, brighter and more inclusive future and failed to engage.
Instead Fear won.
Racism and job protection stimulated large groups of people to vote that do not normally participate in the voting process and probably used the occasion to protest.
We will know in time if the UK were correct and they may well be but that is not the point of my article. My point is simply that the introduction of the referendum and the lack of attention paid to it left a void of information and not surprisingly the conclusion was extremely narrow.
I remember some time ago an English politician said to me that the problem with Britain is that it has simply become too small for its boots but it should never take offering simple choices for granted.