Brexit £46m adspend was ineffective, says National Audit Office

Government's own business case did not justify budget of £100m, report states.

Brexit campaign: it had 'limited impact'  (Getty Images)
Brexit campaign: it had 'limited impact' (Getty Images)

The government’s "Get ready for Brexit" campaign wasted its budget by misdirecting money to above-the-line media that would have been spent more effectively on roadshows and stakeholder events, according to a report out today from the National Audit Office.

The parliamentary body acknowledged that the campaign, which ran during September and October, had increased awareness of some things people might need to do ahead of 31 October, at that point the planned date on which the UK would leave the EU – but said it was "not clear that the campaign led to the public being significantly better prepared".

The damning verdict follows a warning from the NAO in late October that the campaign could have "limited impact". 

That came a week before the campaign was put on hold, after the date of exit was pushed to 31 January.

At that point, the NAO said, £46m of the campaign’s £100m budget had been spent, compared with a planned £53m.

According to the Cabinet Office, the campaign reached 99.8% of the UK population, and each member of the public had the opportunity to see the ads 55 times. It commissioned a survey finding that 58% of people could recall the campaign unprompted, and 73% could when shown an ad. 

But despite these numbers, the campaign failed to motivate UK citizens to look for information, despite the executions prominently featuring the message "Prepare for Brexit at gov.uk/brexit". The proportion who that said they had done so ranged from 32% to 37% during the campaign, and was 34% when it stopped.

The NAO also found:

  • The £100m budget was chosen from four options presented by the Cabinet Office with budgets of nothing, £15m, £60m and £100m, despite the most expensive option not demonstrating increased impact from its proposed spending on the "air campaign", including TV, radio, out of home and digital;

  • The majority of the money spent went on the air campaign despite the business case identifying that the "ground campaign", involving activity such as roadshows and stakeholder events, would be more likely to get people to act;

  • The campaign was launched within six weeks of the planning beginning, which contrasts with Cabinet Office guidance that government TV campaigns should be worked-up five months before launch.

The campaign's creative executions came in for criticism, with Campaign's Omar Oakes calling the TV ad "a communications abomination" and social media users spoofing the simplicity of the posters. The seemingly poorly thought-through placement of the ads was also subject to ridicule

This week the government is launching a campaign in the UK with the message "This Friday the UK leaves the EU", again encouraging people to check for any actions they will need to take. 

From Saturday 1 February it will also kick off a Great Britain "Ready to trade" campaign in 17 cities across 13 countries outside the EU.

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