Remain or Leave: The campaigns as brands

23 Jun 2016|Paul Cowper

A brand structure breakdown of the EU referendum


People in the UK have a big choice to make, stay in, or leave the EU? It’s a tough choice. No one really knows what will happen in the light of either outcome. On both sides of the argument big claims and big statements are being made, and it’s very hard to know what to believe.

What if we thought about this not only as a choice between two different ideologies, but as a choice between two competing brands? Each brand desperate for our attention, our business, to outdo the other, and to win. We know that in most cases brand choice is largely driven by “irrational” factors, yet is rationalised afterwards on the basis of functional superiority. If we broke the two campaigns down as we might examine brands what would we find?

We started with the simplest brand structure we could think of – boiled down to the most fundamental parts of what makes up a brand:

  • The Purpose – what the brand exists to achieve in the world
  • The Proposition – what the brand promises it will do for you if you choose it
  • Functional Benefits – what you get
  • Emotional Benefits – how you will feel
  • The Character – the brand’s way of doing what it does, its authentic style

The Purpose:

A pretty clear distinction here, one camp wants to keep us in the EU, the other wants us out. So far, so differentiating.

Choice driver score – High

The Proposition:

This is where it starts to get muddy, neither team really has a clear, differentiated proposition. Each is more or less promising the same three things – economic prosperity, greater control over immigration and a more secure future for the NHS, but each team claiming their way is the right way to achieve pretty much the same things. How can staying in or leaving the EU both potentially lead to the same things?

Choice driver score – Low

Functional benefits:

If we follow what we’re promised, both sides will help the UK to grow, so wealth is a benefit plus both teams saying we’ll have better control over how the UK is run if we go their way. As with the proposition, functional benefits do not really pull the two campaigns apart.

Choice driver score – Low

Emotional benefits:

The teams pull apart again here. The leave campaign believes greater independence and autonomy is better which suggests that Britain will independently outperform. The emotional benefits promised are national pride, independence and a touch of innate superiority.

The remain campaign believes that the functional benefits are more easily achieved through being plugged into the EU network, that membership brings us benefits that outweigh the costs. The emotional benefits promised are belonging, diversity and collaboration.

Choice driver score – High

The Character:

Here we find possibly the biggest differences of all (outside the fundamental purpose) – the styles of the two camps are fundamentally different. Based on the spokespeople, tone of voice and messaging we’ve seen in each camp, we’ve characterised each campaign in terms of the Jungian archetypes that they display.

Leave is characterised as a Rebel Explorer – they are the challenger, their style is a little transgressive and disruptive, but they are also champions of trying something new, believing that we stand to gain more through taking control of our future, even if that less well known

Remain is a Nurturer Ruler – they can’t help but represent the establishment, but in doing so they present a less aggressive and more caring stance. They have the challenge of presenting what already exists in a new light.

Choice driver score – High

In final, much like the way we choose brands, it seems likely that there is a very strong emotional component to the stay vs leave decision, and that doesn’t just relate to how we feel about Europe, it’s driven by the character and tonality of the campaigns. Given the relative lack of distinction in the propositions and rational benefits we could argue the choice here is do we identify with rebellion and challenge or do we place our trust in a caring establishment?

Adding to the interest, younger voters are more likely to want to Remain, whilst older voters are biased towards leaving. To put this differently, younger voters are attracted by the status quo, whereas older voters are the rebels – this feels slightly counter to what we might stereotypically expect of these age cohorts. We think the answer to this lies in the emotional benefits promised by each team. Younger voters are liable to relate more to the softer promises around belonging, collaboration and being part of something culturally diverse. Older voters are less inherently rebellious than they’re likely to feel a sense of national pride and to want to be independent.

Whilst all the talk and rhetoric presents this as a purely intellectual decision for everyone, whenever you want to persuade people, you neglect the emotional currency of what you’re doing at your peril.

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