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Did both Remain and Leave camps miss a golden opportunity to connect with young people over the Brexit?

Have young voters engaged with the EU referendum campaign

The UK is to leave the European Union on the narrowest of margins but there’s a pervading sense that it need not have been so close if both sides of the debate had bothered to reach out to young people.

After months of campaigning the result is in, and 52 per cent of Brits have opted to back a Brexit in what’s been described as a “knife-edge” EU referendum.

For the best half of 2016, the electoral commission’s two official campaign groups - Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave, along with unofficial fringe divisions have been mudslinging, “love-bombing” and flotilla-ing in a bid to win over the electorate.

With 72 per cent of the registered electorate tuning up to vote, the contest between the Leave and Remain camps was narrow, but would the final result may have been more clear cut if both parties had made more of an effort to reach out to younger voters?

Yesterday’s Ipsos Mori survey indicated that two in three 18-34 year-olds planned to vote to stay in the EU, while YouGov’s final poll also placed this age group firmly in the remain category, noting that 72 per cent were anti-Brexit.

After a disappointing millennial turnout at last year’s General Election, in which 18 to 24 year-olds were found to be almost half as likely to vote as those aged 65, it looks like politicians may have failed to learn from past mistakes this time around too.

Thanks to the advent of social media, this responsibility instead fell to grassroots initiatives, celebrities and even Tumblr, which were all used millennials as a voting resource in lieu of any buzzworthy youth-orienated campaigns.

‘Brexit and Chill?’

More than a quarter of the UK's population is aged between 21 to 30-years old. With just a day to go before the (then extended) deadline to vote closed earlier this month, almost 30 per cent of under-25s hadn't registered to vote. While there was a surge in people looking to register online as the deadline loomed, the lack of interest so close to the well-publicised cut-off date should arguably have served as a warning call for campaigners.

Towards the end of May Cameron addressed a meeting of senior figures from sites including Facebook, Twitter and Lad Bible to encourage under-25s to register regardless of their political views. Among the ideas that emerged was a widely mocked #VoteyMcVoteFace selfie campaign, an effort from Tinder and Bite the Ballot to teach young people the facts by imploring them to ‘Swipe Right’.

A cursory search on Lad Bible, meanwhile, returns several articles under headings like ‘Oi, Ref! The Arguments For And Against Leaving The European Union’.

Elsewhere, the Nigel Farage-backed unofficial campaign Leave.EU sought to appeal to young people on Twitter with a ‘Brexit and Chill’ ad centred around the implications a Remain vote would have on TV and movie streaming in the UK.

A seperate ad from Stronger in Europe was created in the knowledge young people would "probably take the piss out of it," but the fast-paced spot presented little in the way of facts other than the deadline for registering to vote.

None of these attempts to grab 'the youth's' attention created much of a real viral buzz or encouraged a lot of positive engagement; something Christine Ulman, co-founder of the grassroots social ‘Hug A Brit’ campaign put down a lack of investment.

Ullman said she believes that both sides of the political debate were focused on the core set of voters over the age of 40 because they figured their ROI “was not to be had among 18 to 35-year-olds” who were more Remain-centric.

“Stronger In also did themselves no favour by running a really dull social media presence,” she added. “Actually, if you Google ‘Britain stronger in Europe social media’ you get their website, but none of their social media profiles. Nor was there any buzz about them. The good hashtags and fun campaigns came from other groups like We Are EU.”

The power of celebrity

We are EU’s unusual ‘Five Seconds’ campaign did cause a bit of a stir when it was launched last week.

Created by Adam&EveDDB, the video series harnessed the power celebrity, enlisting Kiera Knightley, Lily Cole, Vivienne Westwood and more to warn young people not to “fuck” their future and mark their ‘X’ in the ballot box irrespective of their views.

A-listers have generated a lot of buzz across both sides of the fence. When David Beckham revealed he would vote Remain, the announcement saw him trending on Twitter for most of the day, clocking up 75,000 tweets in 24 hours.

The Independent’s Matthew Norman claimed Beckham’s stance could “spark a constitutional crisis,” while political scientist and Ipsos Mori’s managing director of social research Bobby Duffy, said “There’s no clear evidence that any type of endorsements like these have any impact.”

Turning to Tumblr

Another group appropriating the 'Brexit and Chill' name are pro-Remain Tumblr campaigners and advertising students Teresa Guggenberger and Alexandra Seidl.

Their meme-ladden blog, which features sharable illustrations of pop-culture clashing with politics, has been picked up by everyone from the Guardian to the Huffington Post.

"If it had been up to young voters, Britain would have voted to stay in the EU," they told The Drum.

"We can only say what we hear from people who have messaged us, which is that there seemed to be a lot of confusion and the feeling of manipulation," the pair continued: "No one feels like an expert on these complicated issues, leaving two options: Either staying silent about politics on social media, or posting humour, like from our page."

Another drive centered around humour and satire came from the Hunter Foundation, which teamed up with Unilad-owned site Wall of Comedy to 'Debunk the Bias' around some EU myths.

The series was skewed towards young people but had no political bias and was produced by creative shop Latimer, who's managing director Matt Hay told The Drum that the concept was designed to penetrate young people’s “bullshit radars".

"If you get that wrong, which unfortunately some of the contenders in the campaign have, you do lose that credibility. That's not just bad for this campaign, it's bad for politics more broadly and that's what really troubles us and why we were keen to work on the Wall of Comedy project," he said.

The actual demographic split of the vote remains to be seen, but if the final polls versus the outcome are anything to go by then it's clear that politicians failed to learn from the mistakes of the 2015 general election in appealing to young people, who turned elsewhere for their information.

The outcome of the referendum has left many speculating that further national and party votes will be on the cards for the British public this year. In light of this, Brexit and Chill's co-founders have dished out some advice for politicians: "Listen to them. Then communicate. Then listen again."

"But what do we know? We only post pictures on Instagram."

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Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum with a remit to cover the latest developments in social media marketing and wider industry news. Based in Glasgow, she has interviewed key figures from brands like Airbnb, Amnesty International, Facebook and Spotify. She has covered international events in Berlin and Amsterdam, as well as Advertising Week Europe.

All by Rebecca