London mayor Sadiq Khan has warned ad agencies that they will be called to arms to help the Remain campaign if there is to be a second referendum on the UK's exit from the EU.
Addressing the delegates at Advertising Week Europe, Khan – a Remain campaigner and supporter of a 'people's vote' on Brexit – said the advertising industry would have a "major role to play" if another referendum were to be put to the British public.
Khan lamented how the 2016 Remain campaign, dubbed as “project fear”, was engineered to “scare people to vote a certain way”. He conceded that the leave campaign managed to "reach parts of the country that remain team didn't" because they "told their story in a certain way".
He then suggested he would be more active in putting pressure on those involved in any second remain campaign to make use of London's creative talent to gain momentum.
“I like campaigns to be hopeful, and the creative industries, advertising and marketing could have helped in relation to the storytelling because I’m a firm believer in the substance being important," he said.
He continued: "You can create and polish a story, but it’s got to be us - the architects of the campaign - who tell it. If there is another referendum, then those of us with wiser heads in the campaign will be looking to use all the abilities of the advertising and creative industries to make sure we get the message across."
Khan was responding to a question put to him during a Q&A at Advertising Week Europe on Tuesday (19 March) as to whether London's ad industry could have helped 'Brexit-proof' the city.
The UK is scheduled to leave the European Union (EU) on 29 March, but Parliament remains deadlocked about what terms, if any, the UK will depart under. Khan said as far as Brexit was concerned "no one knows what's going on".
His comments follow on from House of Parliament speaker John Bercow vetoing another Westminster vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal until the conditions are changed, or a new session begins. Commentators have said the move has breathed new life into the prospect of a people's vote – something Khan's party Labour has shown support for but that Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted isn't on the table.
A 'people's vote' march is scheduled in London for Saturday (23 March) to put pressure on the government to let the electorate have their say once more, now that the economic and political impact of Brexit it clearer.
"I can't think of anything I've been involved in which has been so poorly organised and so chaotic with such big consequences," Khan told the room of marketers.
"You will all have experienced people in your lives - people you've met, people you work for, people you know who are incompetent, but Theresa May really takes the biscuit," he added.
Following on from the second rejection of May's Brexit deal in parliament last week, the prospect of a "disorderly" withdrawal from the EU was looming large over the ad industry with trade bodies predicting "brand disinvestment" amid the uncertainty.
The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (Isba), the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), the Advertising Association (AA) and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) have relayed to The Drum how their members – a mix of advertisers, agencies, publishers and digital platforms – are worried that the continued uncertainty could see the industry take a financial hit.
An Enders Analysis forecast published earlier this year claimed a no-deal Brexit would plunge the ad industry into its first recession in a decade.
With concerns over finances and talent mounting within the walls of ad agencies, Khan is unlikely to be hard pushed to get creatives and marketers involved in a second remain campaign. Ahead of Brexit, just 25% of the UK's ad agencies said they believed Brexit will offer opportunities for international growth, according to figures from industry thinktank Credos.
During his tenure as Mayor, Khan has set out to position himself as an ally to the creative and advertising industries.
After the Brexit vote, he invested in a 'London is Open' campaign to reaffirm the capital's position as a centre for business and culture. More recently he launched a competition to give advertisers access to free OOH real estate across London's TfL network for campaigns that reflected the diversity of women in the city, Holland & Barrett picked up the prize.
On top of this, he's enforced new rules around both junk food ads and sexualised images from within City Hall.
"The creative industries is one of the fastest growing sectors in London," said Khan. "Your growth is twice that of the wider economy. [You're not just important] because of benefits you bring financially to us, but also because of the stories you tell and the diversity you can portray."