The HMRC campaign provokes more thoughtcrimes

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So here is another HMRC campaign against tax evasion. First credit where credit’s due. This is less toxic than the previous campaign that infuriated me so much.

  • The copy tone is less accusatory. They are closing the net on ‘tax dodgers’ rather than what was previously implied that they are closing the net on you personally. And of course the sign off ‘If you’ve declared your income you have nothing to worry about’ is a vast improvement.
  • From a design perspective, it’s weak. The silly turquoise lines are there to suggest some kind of network tricknology to ensnare those wrongdoers who don’t cough up. But again, it still represents a minor improvement to the ghastly eye peering through grey paper they favoured last time around.
  • The Orwellian eye is retained, and despite being less threatening this time, this execution would dearly love to instil a little fear and paranoia if it hadn’t had its teeth pulled. But is this really what the UK government wants the overwhelming majority of its citizens who do actually do pay their taxes to feel? And there’s no need to state again who the real tax dodgers are: they’re not the people walking past this poster on their way to do a bit of shopping.

Why not help people to do the right thing instead?

Here’s an idea. Rather than infantalising us this way, why don’t HMRC opt for a territory that is about making a decision instead of popping out to say boo! to us. Talk to people as if they were adults for God’s sake. Remind them they have a responsibility to pay up, and if they are facing difficulties, the best thing they can do is talk to the tax office to try to sort things out. Remind people that they have the power to decide to pay or decide to engage. For after all, the alternative is exactly the paranoia inducing state that this poster would love to induce.

Of course marketing exists to prompt decisions. In what I call Decision territory anxiety is introduced to add urgency to the purchasing process. But create too much anxiety in a campaign and people will do nothing. (This is true in healthcare and charity sectors too).

The HMRC could instead make the decision to pay look easy and rational. Allow the taxpayer to feel they are able to engage with the tax office, and that they have it within their power to do the right thing. This must surely be better than sticking a giant eye on the side of a public phone box (network geddit) like the one below.

So HMRC, if you’re listening. Lose the 1984 shtick and treat us like adults. Or in other words show us a bit of the carrot, and not just wave the increasingly limp and discredited stick.

About Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, plays, libretti, prose, journalism and so on. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.
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