I spotted a tweet from part-time BBC Radio 2 presenter, full-time tweeter Jeremy Vine this morning, highlighting a few paragraphs of the FT.
According to the article from last Friday, David Cameron "enlisted the help of technology companies including Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Snap Fashion and The Lad Bible to generate ideas to boost turnout" among 18-24 year olds in the upcoming EU Referendum.
Snap Fashion’s 28 year old founder Jenny Griffiths is credited with coming up with a #VoteyMcVoteFace campaign – yes, that’s a campaign that, as so many do, started with the realisation that one word rhymed with another and before anybody had the chance to stop it, elements were sewn together in a Frankensteinian horrorshow, somewhat resembling a political campaign but altogether too horrible for human eyes to behold.
In short, it is hoped that young people will take a selfie of their ‘vote face’ and share it in their respective and coveted young people ways, along with the hashtag spawn of a somewhat humorous online campaign to name a boat (which I’d argue was led by those outside of the 18-24 year old demographic, anyway).
There were 28 mentions of the hashtag on Instagram at the time of checking this morning – two since the FT piece and one from Jenny herself, so no sign of young voter action there, just yet. The others were people from other countries talking about their own elections and a couple were people who’d also made the lyrical connection between ‘boat’ and ‘vote’, wittily deploying the hashtag while voting in the recent local council elections.
The aim, as Jenny said in response to my tweets, is "to make enough noise to get young people thinking about it… No matter how ridiculous it appears", following that up to say she’d been sworn at and told she should be ashamed of herself. Sadly, Jenny feels she’s woken up to "Twitter abuse", is "massively regretting her involvement" and that "Twitter rage" had led to the cranking down of the idea, saying it "was meant to launch today but not going for it anymore".
I searched the Twitter mentions of both Jenny and the hashtag and, unsurprisingly, saw mild condescension mixed with cries of it being patronising from people, again, outside of the demographic – both of which those behind the campaign must have expected. The worst of which was somebody calling it "unbelievably patronising wank" and one that said "shame on @JennySnapTech".
And this is the crux of my message here. Not that the campaign is bad – which, it undoubtedly is, despite coming from a good place – but that any and all criticism is today construed as abuse or rage. If disapproving voices can prematurely derail what has been portrayed as a government-backed campaign to inspire young voters, the passion for and confidence in the idea can’t have been that great in the first place. Downing Street said the idea was well received by Cameron – which, when you think about it, isn’t surprising. If it goes well, the government supported it and if it flops, then well, Jenny’s the sacrificial lamb and all’s forgotten, ensuring this doesn’t become another EdStone.
I appreciate the notion that with enough noise this could break through and find its target audience – and while I don’t think it will, it disappoints me more that ours is a generation (I’m also 28) and this is a society without the conviction to see ideas through, even when they’re 'out there'. This doesn’t just apply to this idea. It’s why mediocrity prevails, participatory trophies exist, why rehashes and derivative works continue to dominate at the box office, on our TV screens and in literature and why playing it creatively safe is the unfortunate name of the game. This affects the wider marketing world, too – where focus groups and an increased concern for people that aren’t even your target audience increasingly decide what sees the light of day.
#VoteyMcVoteFace is a bloody terrible idea – but creativity of any kind should not be stifled. We need to get out of this mindset that everything has to be appreciated by all people and that a contrary reaction is a bad thing – you can’t please everybody and nor should you try.
Rich Leigh is founder of consumer PR agency Rich Leigh and Co. He tweets @RichLeighPR