Vox Pop: What could the Vote Leave and Stronger In campaigns be doing to convince the public of their messages?

By Naomi Taylor | Client Services Manager

LONDON Advertising

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The Drum Network article

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April 21, 2016 | 11 min read

We are getting closer and closer to referendum day, when Britain will decide whether to remain in or leave the EU. Opinions are flying, especially at The Brexit Debate on The Drum's Advertising Week Europe bus, where Paul O'Donnell, the global exec of Ogilvy, claimed that 'we would not invest further in our UK business', if the UK were to leave the EU. Various scaremongering messages have been adopted by either side, making it difficult to find coherent arguments in either campaign's communications. The Drum Network asked its members, what could the Vote Leave and the Stronger In campaigns do to convince the public of their messages?

Will Leafe, digital marketer, Strawberry

Referendums are a fascinating beast. Not least because they’re so deceptively straightforward, but also due to their rarity. Run through a metaphorical political ‘jungle’ and only once or twice will you encounter a referendum out in the wild. Stay tuned for more animalistic analogies.

The options put forward in a referendum battle are painstakingly extreme - there’s no ‘spectrum’ the likes of which you might find in a General Election. It’s Yes or No. So - it matters which side you choose, there’s no half measures. Voters therefore often find themselves cautiously leaning over to one side or the other. There’s a hesitation to be convinced.

That leaves politicians at a disadvantage from day one. 2016’s most exciting political scandal yet - the Panama Papers - also prematurely wounds the believability of most referendum rhetoric. It’s no surprise that a good proportion of the public - not necessarily even the most apathetic bunch - are not overly keen on engaging with the ‘tax dodging’ public enemies no.1, 2 and 3. The real truth still, however, lies with the ineffective tactic which both sides of this predictably uncertain campaign, continue to tirelessly employ.

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See scripted exchange below:

“If we [leave/remain] we will [gain/lose] [number] of [issue]”

“That’s just typical scaremongering from the [leave/remain] camp!”

This ‘they’re scaring you more than we’re scaring you’ response from both sides leaves the public in a frenzied head-spin, tossing back and forth between the two sides as the Vote Leave and Remain In teams consistently claim the other is hoodwinking the public into siding with their view. Neither will convince the public of their message with this broken record.

It could even be that the issue lies deeper than this. Whilst it may be becoming a clichéd opinion, perhaps the days of real engagement with politics have gone the same way of the Dodo. I promised there would be one more.

Neil Stanhope, founder, Underscore

If either side was truly convinced of their merit, the best they could do would be to find a representative body of truly neutral parties or non EU countries that could review the prospects rationally - and from both sides. It’s time for unbiased impartiality; we’ve still got eight weeks left of both sides claiming the other is talking rubbish, and as it’s about the future neither of them knows even that!!

Michael Moszynski, CEO, London Advertising

The referendum was a political expedient to allow Cameron to put off a fight within the Conservative Party and allow him 'permissable deniability' on the EU to take the wind out of UKIP's sails ahead of the general election. This was successful in that it allowed him, to his surprise, to win it (which as Drum readers will know I consistently forecast correctly from 6 months before the election). So there was no great public up-swell to have a referendum on the EU but Cameron could not back out of it. It is in this context that the referendum is being fought with what is perhaps not surprisingly a low level of public interest compared to the Scottish referendum which had a turnout of 84%.

I forecast a turnout in this referendum of something closer to a bi-election or local council election of 40-44%. So as we are seeing, the campaign for both sides is all about GOTV (Getting Out the Vote). Therefore, the role of each campaign is not to convince people to change their minds or even to move from being on the fence - their messages are about making sure their existing supporters actually cast their vote. Thus we see Osborne carpet bombing the country with message of gloom, doom and despair of how bad the country will fare outside of the EU (which does contrast with Cameron's position in his Bloomberg speech in 2013 where he said the UK would do fine). And we see Vote Leave targeting women concerned about funding for the NHS and unskilled workers concerned about their jobs being taken by EU migrants.

My advice would be for either side to not lose sight of the fact this is a vote about Britain’s self-perception and that all the micro decisions by individuals are taken in the context of an emotional framework. I would urge that we also see some positive messages about the future rather than just a slug-fest of potential dangers from what for what is an unknown set of outcomes. And my prediction for the outcome of the vote? I sense that with a more activated supporter base that if my turnout forecast is correct that the Vote Leave could just sneak it, but like the Battle of Waterloo which decided Europe’s fate 200 years ago it will be 'nearest run thing you ever saw in your life'.

Sarah Howard, head of content, Vertical Leap

The government spent £9m on sending leaflets to every UK household. Unlike websites with analytics tracking code, we’re not going to know how many people actually read this information, or bounced off after the first page. It’s more than likely that the leaflets were tossed into people’s recycling bins unread.

Rather than relying on print media, the campaigns should engage in digital debates, using social platforms as an open forum. They should represent information in easy-to-read digital formats, clearly showing the arguments for and against remaining in the EU. Currently, we’re presented with walls of text and scaremongering content that’s not backed-up with data or any meaningful analysis. Instead, we need transparent information, with clear and backed-up points, displayed digitally in a visually-appealing way. It’s only by having all the information at our fingertips that we’re going to be able to make a decision that’s not based on fear.

Lyndon Roper, strategy director, Intermarketing Agency

Most political groups campaign in poetry and then govern in prose. During the campaign there is talk of hope and renewal, inspiring the electorate on a better tomorrow (whatever that means). Blair’s 1997 New Labour campaign had an overarching goal of Modernising Britain (New Labour, New Britain anyone) a positive, emotional and single minded vision of what Britain would be like under New Labour. It captured the mood of the nation. It felt authentic and genuine. It was time for change. Even the apathetic got dizzy. And he won with a massive landslide.

The EU referendum represents the biggest political decision in decades and yet both campaigns feel very hollow. Not much poetry and little inspiration. Just scare stories.

Both campaigns need a much more single minded focus (apparently only 59% of the electorate have made up their minds). But we need to vote for something positive. A simple but powerful message that will connect. The emotional trigger.

Henry Sanford, digital partner, AB…the ideas agency

So far both campaigns are gurgitating lots of facts and figures creating a fear response to what will happen if you have an opposing vote. This leads to mistrust as no one really knows what the truth is. Using fear does not engage people but makes them react to a situation, which might not be best for them or the country. Real engagement with the target audience seems to be missing. I want to know how the vote is going to affect me, my family, my business and the UK as a whole. This is where the real opportunity is.

I’d like to see targeted demographic marketing where it outlines what will happen, using independently verified figures, to a specific demo graphic. Provide a simple tool where I can select my personal set up and then provide me with ‘in’ and ‘out’ information. The winner will be the side that shows it is trying to be independent and engaging at the same time.

Damien Bennett, head of strategy, NMPi

From what I have seen so far there has been a shockingly low level of personalisation within the creative messaging for both the “Vote Leave” and “Stronger In” campaigns. People largely make voting decisions based on what the outcome means for them, and with the plethora of targeting options available to advertisers there is a better opportunity than ever before to explain to people how political decisions will affect their lives.

As is currently being seen in the US social media can play a significant role in motivating disaffected voters to get behind a cause. In the case of both campaigns I suspect that social will play a fundamental part in galvanising the public to not only vote but actively campaign for the side of the argument that they take.

The campaigns should also be weary of the public’s reaction to high levels of advertising spend. I personally couldn’t believe the government’s decision to plough £9m into the brochure campaign, and the way pro-Brexit supporters used this to attack the government should serve as a lesson that the perception of wasted public spend could do more damage than it does good.

Daniel Ward-Murphy, strategy director, Thinking Juice

The referendum will not be won through what will actually happen, but through what people believe will happen. It’s a simple and obvious statement but it’s key. In order to capture a critical number of the floating voters one of the sides need something that evokes trust. Personally, I think they should add some balance to their arguments. It’s quite simple psychology, you make people believe 5 things by being honest about not being sure about a 6th. If they concede a little ground somewhere then people will think they are being balanced in their view. You can argue this would be a little calculated and deceitful, but the truth is there is uncertainty. At the moment the communications are so inflexible and didactic. They don’t need stronger arguments, they need more humanity.

Ingrid Olmesdahl, strategic relationship manager, Mando Group

I have found that the Vote Leave campaign really lacks in delivering the full story behind what they want to achieve and what they stand for. Driven by anti-immigration campaigning, particularly from prominent figures, enhanced by the media, it feels like a pretty one dimensional campaign.

I was surprised to find out through a friend recently that the Leave campaign actually stands for more than immigration! Giving the UK more control over UK policy, expected savings due to lack of membership fees and that leaving the EU doesn't mean leaving Europe or restricting free movement.

According to Vote Leave, they have recently rebranded to reposition themselves as against EU but not Europe. Perhaps it’s the fault of the press, or maybe just the reports I’ve read but you need to dig pretty deep to uncover these facts and see this campaign repositioning.

By drawing the focus away from the headline catching immigration piece, the Vote Leave campaign may find a surge in support. Not isolating people countrywide who do not share an anti-immigration rhetoric but may be disenfranchised with the EU for real economic reasons, could swing a few fence sitters or even those in the Stronger In Europe camp.

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