Brexit. Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, it has been largely absent from our headlines and public discourse.
It might have been so different. The year began in a blaze of red, white and blue, with leavers in triumphal mood looking forward to the sunny uplands of a future outside the dastardly European Union.
When the news emerged that the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, had enjoyed a "delicious patriotic breakfast of sausages, baked beans, bacon and eggs" ahead of the latest round of negotiations, drawing hoots of derision from remain-y Twitter, it seemed like this particular interminable culture war would continue as normal.
But then Covid-19 swept across the UK and we all found new culture wars to pursue and dealt with lockdown loneliness, working from home and, sadly in many cases, loss.
Now, as the country dusts itself down after thousands of deaths and the start of the worst recession in 300 years, Brexit has reared its head again in the form of a new government ad campaign, "Check, change, go". The upbeat spot urges consumers and businesses to embrace the post-Brexit world with gusto.
However, after playing such a prominent role in the Tories’ December election win in the slogan "Get Brexit done", the B-word finds itself expunged from the corridors of Whitehall and this ad because, to quote Boris Johnson from February, "it’s happened" and is "behind us in history".
On the same day, Johnson gave a major speech in which, in typical Johnsonian style, he mused that "humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of the populations of the Earth to buy and sell freely among each other… I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role".
Some will be roused by that tub-thumping rhetoric, while others will cringe horribly. Either way, this is clearly the philosophy underpinning the ad’s strategy.
So is this the right approach to get the public and business pumped up about our new relationship with the EU and the opportunities that lie ahead? Or in a post-Covid world, does it, as TBWA\London chief executive Sara Tate argues, evoke "a school trip we never signed up for, whilst the teachers deny it’s raining"?
Chief executive, TBWA\London
I get it. Brexit has happened. There is no going back. Time has come to stop arguing about it and work out what on Earth we do now. However, there is something about the tone of the government’s message that jars with me, as someone heading up an SME.
It sweeps under the carpet the fact that businesses are being asked to shoulder the burdensome task of getting Brexit ready, on top of the post-Covid economic uncertainties. It is all a bit jolly hockey sticks: "Come on, seize the day, let’s get started, the early bird gets the worm, no whinging at the back." Like we are being cajoled along by Boris’ nanny, on a school trip we never signed up for, whilst the teachers deny it’s raining. I think most businesspeople would rather be spoken to and treated like adults and that means acknowledging the full reality of the current situation.
Former director of public affairs, ISBA
Why spend money on advertising for life after 31 December?
Because many things we take for granted will be different. This is true for citizens as well as for business. The rules will be different. So 'Check, change, go' is a highly relevant message. Do I like the electronic jingles in the ad? No, but others will.
Readers, I hope, believe that advertising works; certainly the "stay at home" message has been devastatingly powerful. So a clear brief to get us all prepared through an ad campaign is the right strategy; ministers lecturing us on the news is less persuasive.
Unlike the "Get ready for Brexit" campaign, whose target audience was the EU, this campaign is aimed at UK business. Its message, "Check, change, go", reminds me of the one at train stations instructing me to "See it, say it, sorted". I always think: "Isn’t that your job?"
The creative is perfectly nice and depicts our human industry. But there’s no nod to the Covid context. So, to "Let’s get going", I ask: "How?" We can’t get going – masks are compulsory in retail, travel is tricky, many schools are closed and contact tracing is suboptimal. It’s the UK government, not UK businesses, that need to get going.
Chairman and chief strategy officer, Saatchi & Saatchi London
With monumental insensitivity to what we have been through, the government has decided that we need a "new start". With 44,000 of us dead, our economy in tatters and many of our businesses, charities and national institutions facing questions of survival, this is a triumph of wishful thinking over decency. As if one shake of the Etch A Sketch and that pesky pandemic will be forgotten, leaving us free to contemplate the sunny uplands of Brexit Britain.
If we must have another "Get ready for Brexit" campaign, a little empathy would go a long way, and watch the random checklist of words – after "stay alert", we aren’t listening any more.
Chief executive, VCCP Partnership
The commercial encourages us to "check the guidance, make the changes and get going". We see industrious people doing industrious things before the commercial crescendos and instructs us to "let’s get going". The problem is I don’t know what I’m meant to feel or do (or where I am going).
The government clearly have a flavour for simple, instructive messaging like "Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives". In general, I have a lot of time for this approach, but in this instance it’s a dud. I’m afraid it feels like someone’s bastardised a few Billy Ocean lyrics.