Essays at the intersection of marketing and life.
The British people have “had enough of experts”. With these words, Michael Gove articulated the marketing issue at the heart of why Cameron failed to carry the Remain vote, and in so doing lost his job, freaked the economy and possibly unraveled his beloved Kingdom.
In choosing to persuade people using reason, the Remain campaign seemed to ride roughshod over the emotional argument for staying in the European Union. They forgot a simple marketing truth: any idea is both ‘product’ and ‘promise’. That is to say, I buy ideas that I both believe and am prepared to love.
Jean-Claude Juncker recently declared, “I am not a robot”. Indeed. Nor were Britain’s Leave voters.
It is noteworthy that the Leave campaign effectively did the reverse. They eschewed reason where possible, and led with emotion. Every argument was bathed in emotional promise – be it of patriotism, of revenge towards bureaucrats, of outrage towards immigrants or of arrogant condescension towards all of those Euro-dummies in general. Brexit brexited because the Leave campaign won hearts.
The great tragedy is that many of the Leave campaign’s emotional arguments were lies and half truths, whilst a deep well of compelling love for the EU went untapped by Cameron’s forces.
I am amazed that the thought of ‘selling’ an idea is often deemed a bad thing. ‘Let the facts speak for themselves’, I hear. Or, more tersely, ‘it sells itself’.
Well, let’s be categorical: nothing sells itself. Light languishes under bushels; great mousetraps remain unmade; the perfect candidate mostly fails to get the job, and she maybe didn’t even get an interview.
Although the European Union has demonstrably delivered great benefits to the UK, and has British visionaries and values at its heart, an English antipathy towards ‘the Continent’ has gotten the better of it. For centuries, such animosity was expressed through war. Unlike the rest of Europe, the last war is generally a good memory for Brits. Thus, the English spirit is ever bent towards independence. In her popular culture, Europe is ‘other’ – held to ridicule in a manner which, below the humour, is pervasive and deadly serious. Despite the obvious factual difficulties, England does not consider herself part of the continent of Europe at all.
This, then, was the emotional reservoir of the Leave camp. From this well, Gove and his compadres drew their power. All they needed to do was stir the pot.
[I am writing from the Canary Islands where the tourism industry has chosen to efface almost every notion that visitors are in Spain. Their simple proposition is Britain-under-the-sun: a place where English breakfasts lead every morning menu, and where staff are systematically instructed to respond in English, lest the ‘Gracias señor’ traveller feel discombobulated. It is not for nothing that we call these places Tourist Resorts.]
The majority of Leave voters, it turns out, were motivatee by emotional reasons; reasons of identity, of antipathy, of resolve, of pride. In this sense, Gove was cynically correct. These people indeed had little truck with the facts of experts. Because facts were not their problem. Their issue was simply that they had long ago fallen out of love with Europe, and the Remain camp sought to romance them back to bed with statistics.
Was Brexit inevitable? Well, of course not. It was simply a failure of marketing.