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Advertising Marketing Politics

The US Presidential election viewed as marketing

So following my look at the marketing slogans used in Brexit back in June, it came as little surprise that the Make America Great Again, message trumped the Stronger Together message.

Once again, the learning is this: PUT A DAMN VERB IN YOUR SLOGAN IF YOU ARE ASKING PEOPLE TO TAKE ACTION.  Every copywriter knows people need to be told how to respond to the message you have just given them. It’s not called a ‘call to action’ for nothing, it needs a verb. I find it a mystery that this was able to escape the notice of the both the Remain campaign in the UK, and the Hillary campaign in the US .

maxresdefaultStronger Together, echoed Britain Stronger in Europe with its hanging comparator. Stronger than what? Neither has a call to action. What do you do with Stronger Together? Go out and hug someone?

Of course, the thinking behind it is clear. Opposing the wall-building, happy to be divisive Trump campaign, the Hillary side wanted to present itself as bridge-building, and inclusive, ergo: Stronger together.

All good in theory, till your figurehead and brand ambassador describes half the voting population as ‘deplorables’. D’oh!

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Make America Great Again is a far stronger slogan. The voter can infer that a vote for Trump will make the place he or she loves, and calls home, great again. As someone who has visited the  US many times,  I found everyday patriotism far more evident there than any other country I’d visited. Old Glory flutters everywhere, while the pledge of allegiance to it is repeated by every school child in the country.

Make America Great Again, also paralleled the UK Brexit Leave campaign’s Let’s take back control in that it hankered back to a mythical past. Making America great again, sounds like something no American could disagree with. But surely, as Michelle Obama and others pointed out, America is already great.

But Make America Great Again  compares the America today with a nostalgic America, against which reality can only fall short. The slogan seems positive but there is an engine of negativity in the word ‘again’. A provoker of the angry question, so why isn’t America great any more?  And then, ‘who is to blame?’

This campaign was bold. It could have been flipped to make it seem that Trump thought that  America was no longer great. It plays with the never-to-be-spoken fear that the US will one day no longer be top nation. Just as the Brexit campaign still talks to the UK’s faint memories of former dominance.

But as an emotive, action-provoking slogan, Make America Great Again beats Stronger Together  by a country mile.

* * * *

It is a popular revolution. It seems that Brexit provided at least part of the blueprint for Trump’s election. We are told those who have been left behind by an increasingly globalised capitalism, who feel marginalised by ‘liberal-elites’, have had enough. Donald Trump, (again borrowing some of the more extreme Brexiter’s clothes) positioned himself as a highly patriotic candidate with easy solutions, who unashamedly played to bigotries.

Sadly, the vision of the future both Trump and Brexit offers is unachievable, however. Their vision of the future is a myth about what happened in the past.

As someone who loves literature, I know that myths are powerful things. In fact these two post-factual elections show that myths beat facts hands down.

For me this turbo-charging of a national myth is alarmingly reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s. This mood in the US and the UK, allied to increasing nationalism in some European countries, could destabilise Europe. This is exacerbated by the possibility of NATO withdrawal, and Putin’s territorial ambitions. Add China’s expansionism, and the threatened tearing up of climate agreements, which will accelerate huge global migrations, the future is in want of hope right now.

Or perhaps everything will be okay. Please, God, let it be okay.

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Advertising Campaign Fail Marketing Politics Propoganda

The referendum viewed as marketing

The campaigns run by both sides in the recent referendum were failures. Here’s why.

Remain – a classic negative campaign that backfired

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Remain vote’s tagline was Britain Stronger In Europe. At first glance this seems fair enough. But look again and you’ll see how extraordinarily passive it is. With no verb there is nothing to be done. Instead there is the hanging comparator of ‘stronger’. Stronger than what? It’s a dead end that constrained their campaign right from the start. In the photo above you can see how this line becomes something more positive. But by this point the grey anaesthetic of remain had done its job.

The next textbook error was that the campaign bombarded us with features not benefits. The opinions of leaders like President Obama or the IMF’s Christine Legarde, Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney – as well as a slew of home grown experts were wheeled out to suggest that leaving the EU would be a historic error. Many of them quantified exactly how bad it would get. But where were the benefits? Where were the positive reasons to stay? There were no carrots, only sticks, in the Leave campaign.

It became branded as Project Fear by its opponents (a phrase which had been recently used in the Scottish referendum). This jibe could have been overturned at a stroke, if the Remain camp had responded by varying its tactics. But the campaign failed to do so. It also allowed Michael Gove to dismiss the ‘experts’. Like hardened smokers being told cigarettes are bad for you, once you scare people beyond a certain point, they tune out.  This relentless negativity gave no positive outlet for those who felt disaffected. Basic psychology, and 101 marketing. The call to action was… do nothing.

On the eve of the vote, we heard sound bites from Jean-Claude Junckers. “Out is out…” David Cameron got “the maximum he could receive, and we gave the maximum we could give so there will be no kind of renegotiation.” Listening to this dispiritedly at home, I imagined the gleeful whoops from the Leave camp. As these vaguely menacing sound bites were everything they could have wished for.

So those who put their cross in the Remain box had been given no positive reason to vote by their side’s referendum campaign. There were great stories out there, but they were all presented as scare stories. Rather than an opportunity to positively redefine the UK’s role in Europe, the remain vote was a dreary exercise in maintaining the status quo, which wasn’t going to wash with a nation struggling, often miserably, in persistent austerity.

Leave – the fabulous panacea

Conservative Party leadership contender

Time and time again the Leave campaign hammered home the message “Let’s take back control”. Those who work in marketing think of this as a bog-standard off-the-shelf benefit that fits almost any product. You can take control of your finances with a mortgage tracker account, take control of parasites with flea powder, and so on ad infinitum.

The beauty of Let’s take back control is that, like the Nike tagline Just do it, you can attach a million aspirations to the phrase.  It has a verb in it. It is performing an action, it is the active ‘doing something’ choice. Let’s take back control appeals to those who feel disaffected or profoundly unhappy with the status quo. Context is everything however in marketing. A narrow reading of this phrase suggests we’ll take back control from Europe, who were apparently running our country. I don’t know about you, but I am barely able to walk down the road without being ordered what to do by a faceless Eurocrat. No, wait. Other than being able to be travel and be welcomed throughout the EU, the bureaucrats have left me alone.

So an open-ended active messaging was a huge advantage for the leave camp. They deployed figures sparingly, and often vaguely. Somehow we would have improved fishing quotas (ignoring that the EU’s policy on the north sea, for example, which has brought back several food species from the brink of extinction). Their claim that they would spend £350 million a week to the National Health Service was hotly disputed (and later reneged on the morning after the vote was won). But on the whole they cleverly steered clear of a feature-led, figure driven approach to campaigning. They focused on the benefits. This mainly relied on the deployment of abstract nouns. We would gain Sovereignty, Freedom, Control, Independence and so on. It sounded great. This optimistic mood music allied to the undoubted charisma of Boris Johnson, meant the campaign became a magnet to all kinds of aspirations.

But underneath it all was the messaging about immigration, of taking control of our borders, and limiting the numbers of immigrants. There are many people in the UK who are uneasy about migration, and here I think of older people living in areas whose entire language and culture has changed about them, and there needs to be a conversation about this. But the campaign went straight to blaming the foreigner for the ills that beset our nation. For me personally, racism is something I have actively campaigned against in my life so this strain of the campaign was anathema to me.

The racism was exemplified by the poster below, launched by Nigel Farage. It is the nadir of political marketing in my lifetime. Its forebears were a monstrous hybrid of Nazi propaganda, and the old Conservative  Labour isn’t working Saatchi & Saatchi poster for the 1979 election campaign.

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So where now?

Unsurprisingly the positive, open ended campaign attracted more votes. After all, who wouldn’t want to take control? The problem now, however, is that people who voted to leave did so for a vast array of reasons. In the aftermath of the campaign it seems few of them were related to the EU.

The leave campaign’s castle of clouds is melting away. Election promises about money to the NHS, limiting immigration and so on have all evaporated. Of the three most prominent leave campaigners, Gove, Johnson and Farage, only Gove remains, his hands bloodied after backstabbing Johnson. Because the marketing promise of the election was so vast and ill defined, it is inevitable that there will be ‘buyer’s remorse’.

The Remain camp too. David Cameron has resigned. While the Labour party, largely ineffectual in communicating their Remain support, is left in disarray.

We who live in the UK needed better from our political class. Possibly the most marketing savvy country in the world fell foul of terrible campaigns, of fear and empty promises. The media too were either partisan or failed to unpick the arguments.

There is a crisis in the UK, that affects the stability of other countries in Europe and beyond. It manifests itself as a political and economic crisis. But at its heart is also a crisis in the way we communicate with each other. There has to be a better way than this.

Categories
Marketing Newspapers Politics Propoganda

The Sun sinks even lower

The Sun May 6th 2015

The Rupert Murdoch-owned UK tabloid The Sun reached new depths this week. That Murdoch, an Australian-American can so blatantly intervene in British politics is of course galling enough. His discredited newspapers have been implicated in the phone hacking scandals, necessitating a personal apology from Murdoch to the family of a murdered child Milly Dowler, after his newspaper had hacked the dead girl’s phone.

While Milliband looked silly eating this sandwich, it is the subtext that is so toxic: a barely-coded slur on Milliband’s Jewish background. Interviewed in The New Statesman Milliband said:

“I am not religious. But I am Jewish. My relationship with my Jewishness is complex. But whose isn’t?

My family history often feels distant and far away. Yet the pain of this history is such that I feel a duty to remember, understand and discuss it – a duty that grows, rather than diminishes, over time.”

Against the backdrop of the election, held the next day on May 7th 2015, which saw millions unashamedly voting for the blatantly racist UKIP party, The Sun did it’s best to overturn Milliband’s assertion that “The first Jewish leader of the Labour Party.” It says something about me and about Britain that I am rarely described as such.

The Sun did what it could to slur Milliband on racial lines, making sure Milliband’s Jewishness was front page news – and it makes my blood boil.