So. Here I am. It’s the 23rd June, the big referendum day has arrived, and I’m stuck at Cannes Lions – the traditional summertime mecca for creativity (tough gig, I know).
No doubt you feel as sorry for me as you do for those poor Old Etonians David and Boris! Nevertheless, given that my proxy vote is safely secured back in Blighty, an international festival for creativity provides the perfect context in which to ask:
If the EU referendum were a competition in branding, which camp would win?
Who gets your branding vote? Are you a Brexiteer or a Remainiac? Let me pop the cork of that chilled rosé and consider some of the basics of branding. What sharp Byronistas might call ‘The Four Big Easy’s’:
Easy to understand
Easy to remember
Easy to reach
Easy to buy
EASY TO UNDERSTAND
Given the political subject matter, this is always going to be a hard one to get right. The heady mix of complexity, spin, counter spin and accusation of mistruths – from both sides – makes it difficult for the general public to grasp the arguments for or against.
Setting aside all the mud-slinging, we can thinly slice the campaigns into fairly simplistic one-word stories aimed at tapping into a couple of high-level human truths.
The need for control and to be in charge of our sovereignty sits at the heart of the Vote Leave campaign with its hashtag #TakeControl. On the other hand, our propensity to make strong emotional attachments and believe we’re stronger together drives the Vote Remain campaign’s hashtag #StrongerIn.
However, unlike the Keep Britain in Europe campaign back in the mid-seventies, the pro-unionists haven’t embedded their message with any semiotic meaning. Surely, in a world that’s more visual than ever before, this is a missed opportunity.
Disappointingly, neither the leave or remain camp has created any core iconic assets or amplified their message creatively. As far as effective branding goes, this is – quite frankly – bonkers, bordering on the amateur. Particularly given best practice examples set by past political campaigns like Obama’s.
If you asked any Obama supporter back in 2008 what Obama stood for, the response would probably have been ‘hope’, ‘change’ and ‘progress’. Why? Because the story was clear and the look and feel was ownable.
The campaign logo married the ‘O’ of Obama with a horizon and the idea of dawn – all wrapped up in a patriotic red, white and blue.
WINNER = DRAW
EASY TO REMEMBER
Going back to the two campaigns currently at the forefront of our minds, can anyone recall their iconic brand assets? Compared to other socio-political campaigns like Red Nose Day or Children in Need, there’s little to hardwire mentally.
If you asked people to draw either the Leave or Remain brand from memory, I’d be surprised if anything appeared on the page. In stark comparison, it would literally be child’s play for people to recall and draw the Red Nose or a Pudsey Bear, for example.
WINNER = DRAW
EASY TO REACH
This is where the fun begins, as we see the two opposing gangs duke it out for the favour of the millennials.
There’s nothing more debilitating than seeing politicians ‘disco-dadding’ with Gen Viz. Top prize for this goes to the #Votin video designed to appeal to young voters. Apparently, if it’s street cred you’re after, dropping the ‘g’ is the cool thing to do when you’re workin’, earnin’, shoppin’, ravin’ and chattin’. Yeah, we get the ‘in’ puns – but really?
Tory MP Sam Gyimah recently said it was “The job of us politicians to make politics engaging and accessible – less official, less formal, more casual”. OMG, seriously? He’s not even jokin’! Sam, we know you’re aware young people were born into an EU era and therefore *might* take it for granted, but McDonaldizing your story really ain’t going to cut it.
Now, if we look at Vote Leave’s #TakeControl @vote_leave messaging, to me it falls ever so slightly flat and feels – well – a bit like it can’t really be bothered.
WINNER = REMAIN (for at least tryin’!)
EASY TO BUY
Finally, as I polish off the last of my ice-cold Provence rosé, let’s consider the notion of ‘easy to buy’. While we may need to see the results to know for sure, there are still a few things to ponder.
Could the Remainers have considered a bigger, more optimistic world-view rather than just thinking of Europe? OK, so it’s true that in 2016 we still live in a world of racial, geographical and gender divisions. But, in the future, our sense of identity will slide further towards something we collect, assemble and arrange – what’s been phrased ‘Bricolage Living’.
“Transnationalism and layers of identity are becoming more common, particularly among the young”, says professor Ian Goldin, Director of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford. This is surely the brighter future Obama strived for.
As for our Brexiteers, they should have had a gander at Edelman’s 2015 Trust Barometer. It showed a global decline in trust, with the number of countries with trusted institutions falling to an all-time low among the informed public. They might have been better off opting for straightforward, new-found honesty, instead of trying to instil fear into the Little Englander.
WINNER = DRAW
So. Returning to the question posed earlier: “If the EU referendum were a competition in branding, which camp would win?”
What conclusions can we draw? Well, it’s been a bit of a non-event branding-wise. More of a meow than a roar, let’s say. Perhaps both camps should have used a kitten as their branding mascot. After all, everyone knows how much we as a nation love looking at kittens…
As featured by The Drum