Leave campaign won because it followed KISS: Keep it simple stupid
A view from Greg Delaney

Leave campaign won because it followed KISS: Keep it simple stupid

The campaign I suspect most professional marketing and ad people backed demonstrated so few basic marketing skills, writes Greg Delaney.

The Remain campaign desperately needed a big Kiss. "Keep It Simple Stupid" is what the best planners and creatives always tell us to keep in mind when executing a campaign.

It is how the most effective communications are supposed to work. You strip away all the unnecessary and obscure elements of a brand or organisation’s message until you arrive at a single minded proposition or statement that your audience can both understand and also feel is directly relevant to them.

The task then is to relentlessly drive that simple message home. The great campaigns have always done this, as have the best politicians and political parties.

Unfortunately, the Remain referendum campaign never got anywhere near implementing this basic communications principle. Throughout the campaign they put out a series of over thought, complicated and varied messages that left people unclear what the real advantages of EU membership were.

Their opponents from the Leave campaign, on the other hand, got to a strong, simple message – "Take Back Control" – early on, and then proceeded to ram it down our collective throats at every opportunity.

Boris Johnson, in particular, mentioned "take control" at every single podium he mounted, saying it not once, but often many times. Other prominent Leavers followed suit, obediently staying on message and sticking, literally, to the party line.

No matter that the promise of "taking back control" is something they will find it very difficult to deliver (as some of the Leavers are already admitting) the theme was a crucial difference in the two communication campaigns and, I believe, ultimately helped deliver Leave its victory.

It succeeded because it stuck to the KISS formula. It was simple and easy to understand across many social classes and views and it was flexible enough to mean different things to different people.

It resonated across the extraordinary Leave patchwork of parliamentary fundamentalists, elderly nostalgics and quasi racists as well as large sections of the discontented working poor who did not want to vote for Cameron and Osborne and were not won over by Labour’s feeble attempts to get them onside.

In a world where very few people other than the very rich feel they have much control over their lives, it promised an alternative future.

In contrast, from the Remain camp we had a whole series of different warnings about the dire economic consequences of Brexit, including expert opinions from Institutions, like the World Bank and the IMF. There was also a plethora of endorsements from business people and celebrities.

What the Remain campaign totally lacked was a single, compelling idea, sentence or thought to sum up the core advantages of vote to Remain in simple compelling terms – something voters could relate to on an emotional as well as rational level.

Many thought this was going to be "Stronger In" but how many people really registered those words after the launch of the campaign? And was that the best thing that could have been said?

Instead of any recognizable, unifying idea from Remain, the campaign just seemed to be reacting to what the Leave campaign were saying or doing. On immigration, for example, there was no single comprehensible narrative or party line to counter "take back control".

So while Jeremy Corbyn was half-heartedly talking up the benefits of immigration and saying that "there can be no upper limit", other Labour Remainers were simultaneously saying that they wanted to revisit the free movement of people across borders within the EU.

The news that some in the Labour campaign HQ were also preventing local constituencies from including immigration as an issue in their leaflets demonstrates how uncoordinated the campaign was.

Even when people were passionately in favour of EU membership, the Remainers often gave completely different reasons for why they were going to vote to stay in. This is perhaps understandable as there was a long list of good reasons to stay, but as these reasons were never tied back to a positive common Remain theme or mantra they just became so much background noise.

Some will say that the issue of EU membership is so complex and its implications so enormous, that it shouldn’t be reduced to a mere headline or soundbite. But in reality, the more complicated and important an issue, the more people cry out for it to be summed up clearly and made simple for them.

The irony is that having won the campaign battle with a line promising more control, the Leavers now have to guide us through a world which is infinitely more complicated, risky and difficult to control than it was before June 23rd.

For those of us who wanted to Remain, there are many regrets, not least that the campaign I suspect most professional marketing and advertising people backed demonstrated so few basic marketing skills.

Greg Delaney is the co-founder of Watchable Films and a co-founder of DLKW Lowe (now MullenLowe London)

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