‘Get Ready For Brexit’ didn’t fail, it did exactly what it was supposed to
Despite the campaign reaching 99.8% of the population, giving us the ‘opportunity to see’ the range of billboard, print, TV and online adverts 55 times, we did not, in fact, ‘get ready’.
According to the National Audit Office (NAO), the proportion of UK citizens who said they looked or started to look for information on Brexit did not notably change on the back of the campaign.
Is this just another Tory blunder? After they had already awarded an £87m ferry contract to a company with no ferries, brought in prison probation contracts which then had to be bought back at a cost of £171m, and never built a bridge despite having spent £53m on it.
Looked at that way, ‘Get Ready For Brexit’ was just another huge waste, money “spaffed up the wall” — to borrow a phrase.
Engine, who planned and created the campaign, and Wavemaker and Manning Gottlieb OMD who shared duties on planning /buying the media should be hanging their heads in shame, shouldn’t they?
But, was it really a failure?
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “If the Cabinet Office faces a similar challenge in the future, it should… focus much more on what impact is needed and how best to deliver the behaviour change by targeting spending on the activities that are likely to add the greatest value.”
In other words, the focus of the campaign was too broad. It was much more focused on awareness that Brexit was coming, rather than actually getting people to do anything about it.
But, as many mandarins do, he was missing the point.
As one of the people who visited the Brexit website, I quickly realised that, in fact, there was nothing I could do, no ‘behaviour to change’.
Unless you’re a major UK company, ‘getting ready’ was just not something that actually meant anything. No-one knew (or knows to this day) the impact of Brexit. The deals haven’t been done, the arrangements haven’t been made. ‘Getting Brexit Done’ has so far consisted of just getting the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament.
That’s not something the person on the street can do anything with.
So, what was the campaign really about?
I would argue that in fact, this was a propaganda campaign with three audiences in mind:
- The European Union — signalling the government’s seriousness about leaving, one way or another
- Parliament, with whom the government were doing battle at the time. Similarly to the EU, the message was, ‘we’re serious about this’.
- The public. Number 10 knew that the British electorate were getting sick of Brexit and the debate. By positioning Brexit as more or less a done deal that you had to ‘get ready’ for, the window of debate was moved even further towards the Leave position.
How else would you justify such a massive spend?
The ‘opportunity to see’ (OTS) number of 55 alone is mental. An OTS of 8–10 would be considered very big. One of 55? Utterly ridiculous.
You have to hand it to the government, they are not afraid of placing big bets.
This was one of their larger ones, and, you know what, it worked.