Campaign Fail Marketing

HMRC undeclared income campaign

I encountered the new HMRC campaign for the first time this morning at a cashpoint. As I was waiting for my hard-earned cash to be vended, a pair of piercing blue eyes stared up at me from the screen, with the line ‘We’re closing in on undeclared income’. It was the most unpleasantly Orwellian moment I have ever experienced from a piece of marketing had from a marketing tactic.

As a poster on the street (see below) I would have seen it for the badly-executed visual cliché it is. But context is everything. On a ATM machine, you are in the middle of a private (and, on some streets, vulnerable) transaction. Suddenly finding yourself being threatened by the state comes as a shock.

I was cheerfully getting some cash with the idea of buying a few groceries, but for a full minute I found myself surprisingly angry. I pay my thousands of tax each year and always have done, but is the UK now a country where state bullying is acceptable?

As fate would have it, the ATM was on Jubilee Street, Brighton, a few doors down from Starbucks. I don’t need to spell out the irony of this. But here’s an idea HMRC. Instead of threatening random ATM users in the street, how about advertising your success at retrieving the countless millions owed by international corporations, such as the one hiding in plain sight a hundred yards away?


By Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, comedy plays, dark fiction and the odd libretto. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.

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