The UK government’s £46m ‘Get Ready for Brexit’ public information campaign had little effect on the public’s level of preparedness, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
The controversial taxpayer-funded campaign was planned as part of a bigger £100m push, before the plug was pulled in October after the EU granted the UK an extension.
However, the NAO said it was “not clear” that the TV, radio, digital and poster ads – which directed people towards a government website – had left the public “significantly better prepared”.
The department estimated the campaign (created by Engine) reached had 99.8% of the population, with every member of the public having the opportunity to see the range of billboard, print, TV and online adverts an estimated 55 times.
The publicity drive was ordered by Boris Johnson after he became prime minister in July 2019, with his "do or die" promise to leave by 31 October. It was described by the government as the largest single ad campaign since the Second World War.
According to a survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office, 58% of people could recall the campaign and 73% recalled it when shown an ad.
However, the proportion of UK citizens who reported that they have looked or have started to look for information on Brexit did not notably change on the back of the push. It ranged between 32% and 37% during the campaign and was 34% when the campaign stopped.
The report from the NAO also revealed that Engine (which was awarded a call-off contract from the Cabinet Office in 2017 for creative services) had been given an additional £2.5m to handle the Brexit brief; taking its contract value from £5m to £7.5m.
Wavemaker, enlisted in 2018 for media planning worked alongside buyer Manning Gottlieb OMD which was appointed to handle the government’s £183m account last year.
“To meet the brief, the agencies worked at a faster pace and greater level of complexity than is normal for government campaigns,” the NAO said in its report. Each agency was challenged by Ebiquity, which holds the cross-government contract to independently audit government contractors.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “At short notice, the Cabinet Office successfully corralled multiple government departments to work together effectively and launched this complex campaign at great speed. However, it is not clear that the campaign resulted in the public being significantly better prepared.
“If the Cabinet Office faces a similar challenge in the future, it should, from the start, focus much more on what impact is needed and how best to deliver the behaviour change required by government, targeting spending on the activities that are likely to add the greatest value.”
A government spokesman said: “The Get ready for Brexit campaign reached 99.8% of the UK population and the NAO’s findings showed increased public awareness of the action they needed to take to be ready to leave the EU.
“Not undertaking the campaign would have risked significant and unnecessary disruption to businesses and to people’s lives."