Iâ€™ve worked in marketing for a long time and although my team lost, I have to give credit where itâ€™s due and say the Leave campaign was technically brilliant. It was crafty, targeted, well timed and wove in some subtle psychological devices to great effect.
The Remain camp had a more difficult brief and they were under far more pressure than their opponents. This doesnâ€™t excuse the tepid, ineffectual and forgettable campaign they ran. Iâ€™m sure the team was the comprised of the very best talent our sector supposedly has to offer. I wonder if they genuinely believed the work was first rate, or if deep down they knew they hadnâ€™t come close to solving the riddle. The editor of Campaign magazine, Claire Beale wrote a piece that concluded with this statement:
â€œThe mighty collective power of the UKâ€™s Â£20bn advertising industry â€“ which has been united in its support for Remain â€“ has failed to find the compelling messaging we so desperately needed. Shame on us.â€
I donâ€™t disagree. Lessons will be learned. Claireâ€™s article does suggest that the agencies arenâ€™t totally to blame, as it sounds like the Remain camp were hardly an ideal client.
In boxing, the phrase â€œstyles make fightsâ€ is used to describe how unpredictable it can be. One style can neutralise another, and itâ€™s what makes boxing matches either incredibly boring, completely one sided or unpredictable back and forth battles.
Leave ran several campaigns. They had the blunt, direct, anti-immigration campaign that promised to protect Britain while simultaneously pushing a much tamer and perhaps even aspirational campaign, telling voters this was a once in a life opportunity to take our country back. This was more palatable to a completely different audience.
They also played the part of scrappy underdog who had to fight with all their might. The underdog storyline can be irresistible and no doubt helped win even more voters who were undecided, while making existing voters even more passionate and dedicated. Farageâ€™s blunders were inconsequential. Leaveâ€™s voters were more emotional during the build up, when it mattered most. Now the game is over, those roles have reversed.
From my very preliminary research, Leave worked with a diverse range of agencies. Some of these were small, regional outfits with basic websites and small offices. One agency stated they were politically neutral but were dedicated to getting as much coverage as possible in a campaign that would change their entire country. They were clearly driven and wanted to work hard.
Remain couldnâ€™t counter for whatever reason. Itâ€™s now no surprise that so many people accurately predicted we weâ€™re in for a shock. Remain lost the emotional battle. Leave were more than competent.
Going back to my boxing analogy, it seemed Remain had a strategyÂ that seemedÂ disparate, uninspiring and had no sense of urgency.Â I am diagnosing in absentia here, but it did seem as though they assumed the battle was theirs to lose.Â Yes, Leave used outright lies and other indefensible tactics and no doubt this helped them over the finish line. Despite this, if you take away the words, Leave wove together their plan and it was clever. If this was a boxing match, the commentary would suggest that “Remain have no answers. They areÂ being outclassed, and they’re in a dog-fight they did notÂ expect. They look lost.”
It wasn’t a knockout, but the victory was of a magnitude far greater than even the Leave camp expected.
I have just one final suggestion which may give some of you pause for thought…
Say it quietly, but is it possible the “top talent” at the most prestigious agencies simply arenâ€™t quite as good at their craft as many believe?
Anything is possible.