How Led by Donkeys created the biggest Crowdfunder political campaign in UK history

The award for Best Social Media campaign at The Drum Social Purpose Awards 2019 went to Crowdfunder, Led By Donkeys and the "the 23,105 members of the public who paid for this campaign (and counting)". In this case study, those involved explain how the 'Brexit hypocrisy' campaign became the biggest crowdfunded political campaign in UK history.

The challenge

Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Since then the UK political system has been in turmoil. Like many others, four everyday blokes had a chat about it in the pub - but rather than just getting angry, this four decided to do something about it.

They aimed to fill the void that had opened up in the usually balanced UK political landscape. It was missing a nugget of truth and a splash of British humour. Politicians had either been liberal with the truth or changed their minds so much that it was difficult to know where they stood.

So, the four men founded Led By Donkeys, with a name inspired from that First World War idea of brave soldiers suffering under incompetent leadership, and armed themselves with a £90 ladder from B&Q, four hi-vis jackets and a bucket of wallpaper paste.

The strategy

The idea was simple: uncover the truth. In the format of a Tweet you can’t delete. By going though the social feeds, interviews and articles of Brexit-supporting or enabling politicians’ to reveal their bold claims about Brexit in the past and contrast them with the stark reality we found ourselves in. These would be displayed publicly across the UK, focusing on pro-Brexit areas.

Led By Donkeys opted for a humble screengrab as their design of choice. These were displayed loud and proud on billboards, poster sites and digital advertising vans, plus later in the campaign, as the political situation got hotter (and we didn’t think it could), we took projections to key locations across Europe including Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the white cliffs of Dover, Glastonbury Festival and the EU Parliament itself in Brussels.

"Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice - stability and strong Government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband." 7:26 AM · May 4, 2015

The original David Cameron poster featured his infamous tweet of four years ago, caught the eye of morning commuters and quickly appeared in the national media, growing a Twitter following of 3,000 overnight. Seven further guerrilla billboards and thousands of column inches later they went legitimate after a conversation with Crowdfunder, extending their social media following to 340,000 in a matter of months and raising over £500,000 (and counting).

The campaign

Led by Donkeys asked their followers to choose which statements to put where and pasted them up in days. It gave people a voice when they needed it most. A week is a long time in politics but it’s a lifetime with Brexit. They responded to events on a daily basis, consistently 'making asses' of the Leave protagonists with killer timing and wit, to stay one step ahead of the game. All of which galvanised their supporters and strengthened their reach, which in turn drove more money into their Crowdfunder cause.

Key locations around the country were identified: where Brexit tensions were at their highest, political leaders were based or key Brexit events were taking place. 330 static locations have been used to date. Additionally, two digital ad vans loomed behind Nigel Farage’s infamous ‘March To Leave’.

Meanwhile, at the People’s March in central London (when one million took to the streets), their massive banner became the defining image, making headlines worldwide. When the Brexit Party announced their intention to stand in the European elections without a published manifesto, the quartet dutifully obliged by pasting previous political statements on billboards across the UK.

There was an uplift in activity during Donald Trump's state visit, featuring quotes from Boris Johnson. They tackled the undemocratic process to install a new leader with a series of high-profile posters and even worked together with artist Cold War Steve to collaborate on a billboard site at this year's Glastonbury Festival.

Add huge projections used in Westminster, Brussels and Dover (to which Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted a response) and two spoof websites exposing the new Brexit Party and March To Leave, and you have one of the most agile campaign plans going.

Led By Donkeys was a purely crowdfunded movement, raising £500,000 (and counting) to fund their media spend. In total they created three Crowdfunder.co.uk campaigns.

Let’s stop a Boris Brexit

£10,181* raised by 431 supporters (at time of writing)

Let's paste these tweets* all over Britain

£458,047 raised by 15,032 supporters in 162 days

Let's take the truth to Farage's Brexit march

£31,133 raised by 1,479 supporters in four days

Led By Donkeys have raised a total of £499,361 from 16,492 supporters (at the time of writing)

The results

Led by Donkeys became the biggest crowdfunded political campaign in UK history, raising £10,000 in two hours and then £50,000 in just 24 hours. To date it has raised a total of £499,361 from 16,492 supporters, allowing it to have a huge impact in the crowded Brexit narrative.

  • 340,000 followers in total on social media. They follow no one.
  • Reach of 200,000,000 on Twitter alone, with over 1.5m retweets and 3m likes
  • Viewed over 2,000,000 times on YouTube
  • The physical poster sites have reached 30 million people. There have been more than 330 to date.
  • Staggering editorial media reach of 1,400,000,000.

“A brilliant case study in the persuasive power of outdoor – or public media, as I’m now going to call it. It's only halfway through 2019, but an early contender for agency of the year is surely Led by Donkeys. They have everything that one traditionally looks for in an agency of the year, save an emotional Christmas ad – and surely that must be on the cards.” - Richard Huntington, chairman and chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi

"The best [piece of outdoor work this year] of the lot was not even from an agency, but from four angry dads who set themselves up as Led By Donkeys to protest, poke fun at and rattle Brexit cages with a poster campaign of actual quotes from actual politicians, which are actually staggering. For as long as we live in an angry world (that seems to be getting angrier by the tweet), protest work will have the upper hand." - Hugh Todd, creative director at MullenLowe London for shots.net

"In a world which is increasingly moving online, the old-fashioned billboard seems to be having a moment." - Francesca Gillett, BBC News

This campaign was a winner in The Drum Social Purpose Awards 2019. Find out more about The Drum Awards here.

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