OPINION8 June 2016

The push and pull of Europe

Behavioural economics Brexit Europe Opinion Public Sector Trends UK

With the EU referendum debate now entering its final stages, Nadim Sadek of TransgressiveX casts a critical eye over the strengths – and weaknesses – of the ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ campaigns to date. 

In the 1950s, George Homans put forward the idea of Social Exchange Theory. Quid pro quo. Give and get.

Put starkly, it’s calculating in the flush of youth that marriage is more rewarding than a solitary state, then in the later circumspection of maturity, deciding divorce is less attritional than being marooned on a stormy sea. So it is with Europe. We got married young, but not giddy. And now we’re wondering whether we’d rather have the remote controls all to ourselves.

This whole Brexit thing seems to me to be about how reflexively people are considering the Leave and Remain campaigns. It’s how they feel, not cognitively evaluate, the arguments. To really think that through, we need to examine two elements: ‘what have you got’ and ‘how well are you using it’? Or to put it another way: ‘what’s your propositional pull?’ and ‘how are you doing with your activational push?’

What’s the pull?

A strong brand with good ‘pull' has clear purpose, shows empathy with its audience, is imbued with attraction or aspiration, differentiates itself in a relevant way from its competitive set, and gives confidence that it has momentum behind it and will do what it’s meant to do.

How do Leave and Remain perform? They’re both determined to show attraction and aspiration. Remain has Obama endorsing them as he saunters around tut-tutting Trump. Leave got Boris to tell Obama to ‘shove it', in his inimitably shabby-British, characterful style. That’s probably a draw so far (but don’t tell Boris).

We know one is for staying and one is for going, so they are differentiated. But how is it relevant? Has anyone nailed an articulation of what it’ll do for you? It’s all been conflated with migrants, with the NHS and schools squeezes, and, through the braying and wheezing, most people just couldn’t be bothered to work out what is beyond the articulation of vested interests (or instinctive racism, or chronic island-ism) that does nothing for our own lives.

A no-score draw on that, then.

Where’s the push?

One of the key requirements of a brand’s proposition remains unclear: what is its purpose? And that makes the evaluation of activational push all the more difficult. When you’ve got a great brand proposition, it’s pretty simple to see whether the marketing organisation is doing it justice, or under-performing. It’s usually about creating awareness, ensuring good distribution, pin-pointing value-for-money offers that engage interest, behaving with consistency to give confidence and doing things in a way that people can relate to. This especially refers to a brand’s conduct around integrity and transparency.

There are some easy things to recognise here, for Leave and Remain. They’ve both spent money and been noisy. It’s gone on for ages. Though it might be one of the most important decisions the UK makes for decades, with implications for economic, societal, military and even simple time-zone conditions, the truth is, everyone is sick of the noise.

Banging on without being empathetic and without having a clear purpose, is just banging on. Awareness and distribution are all very well, but what’s the point? Just being consistent also does not improve a brand. The funds to make an impact on radio, in pamphlets, across the TV-scape, marching around from door to door, do not improve comprehension, when what you’re saying doesn’t seem either very meaningful and if people have severe reservations about the integrity and transparency of the marcher.

We are living in a time when there is no factory wall high enough to hide the honesty of a supply chain. People can see better than ever before, speak more fluently about values and how they give their time, money and advocacy only if they get reasonable exchange for it. They also tire of campaigns that are foisted upon them with no clear benefits.

Neither Remain nor Leave can claim to have activated its message effectively, not because they are not loud, consistent and present, but because we can’t tell their wheat from their chaff. What further confuses is that the two basic broadcasters we know well – Labour and Conservative – are themselves discordant. And ultimately, they both ask for money. Maybe not directly, but they do. Leave and Remain make the voter feel that it is their pocket, even more than their sense of patriotism, their camaraderie with other nationals, their pleasure in travelling across the Channel to enjoy better weather, food and transport, that is being hit. Leave the EU and be richer! If you isolate yourself here, you’ll never have it so good again!

Brexit has seemed like a clumsy row between two brand managers, neither of them well-schooled in how to create a brand with true allure, and make it available with conviction. A huge budget, wasted, simply leaves people feeling they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. It’d make you pick up those remote controls and declare sovereignty.

Nadim Sadek is CEO of TransgressiveX


4 years ago

Could not agree more - well said Nadim!

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4 years ago

Great summary of this Brexit madness. Well written article.

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