from Marketing Memetics, by Michael Taylor
In June of 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU. Brexit came as a surprise, given all recent polls had indicated a clear victory for remainers. The campaign to stay had huge structural advantages: status quo bias, the support of the government, vast financial resources, the ability to set the rules and choose timing of the vote. So how did the leave campaign win? As Cummings, who ran the campaign, says “It is hard to overstate the relative importance in campaigns of message over resources”. Rather than hiring a big advertising agency to produce posters, the campaign tested thousands of digital ads to see what messaging was most effective.
Their theme of ‘take back control’ played on 3 big, powerful forces – the immigration crisis, the financial crisis and the euro crisis – all of which had diminished the public’s faith in institutions. Remaining in the EU meant trusting faceless bureaucrats in Brussels to decide what’s best. The leave campaign found through creative testing, a psychologically compelling alternative, and plastered it on the side of a bus: “we send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS (National Health Service) instead”.
Cummings claims that finding this effective message was easy: “all I really did was listen”. The difficulty was in protecting his team from interfering politicians, who had their own pet messages like ‘go global’, which would, by his estimations, have lost them the 600,000 votes they won by. Depending on your moral view of Brexit, take this as motivation or a warning: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”. – Mead