Why from an ad man’s perspective REMAIN’s absolutely right to go negative

Why from an ad man’s perspective REMAIN’s absolutely right to go negative

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PB’s Roger on the messages with the most potency

The multinational Procter and Gamble has long been considered the most effective advertiser in the world. They had one simple formula which they used throughout their product range. They began their ads by showing a problem which was followed by a demonstration of how and why their product was the most effective way of dealing with it. ‘Bad breath…….so no one wants to talk to you?’ ‘Don’t worry help is on it’s way’ was a more effective call to arms than ’Nice minty flavour give it a try.’

Latterly advertisers decided it wasn’t a good idea to associate their products with a negative even if only for comparative purposes so advertising moved on and they no longer had to show that you stank in order to need a deodorant. Instead they went for the positive. One spray of Lynx and beautiful girls came falling out of trees.

    The big difference between an advertising campaign for a product and a referendum is that a referendum is binary. You aren’t protecting the values of a brand nor trying to increase market share. You’re looking for a knock-out. It’s winner takes all. It’s not necessary to make your product fragrant if you can convince the punters that the alternative reeks. Instead of selling condoms by plugging their sensitivity you tell them the alternative is Aids.

It has been found that we’re more hard wired to react to bad news than good. We’re natural pessimists. If you see the top execs at your company having a private meeting you’re more likely be thinking ‘ Are they firing and is it going to be me’ than that they’re talking about pay rises. They say you need five compliments for every criticism because the criticism stays in the memory longer.

So stretching this logic further an attack ad on your competitor could take five times as much effort to neutralise as a positive one for yourself. There’s a line in the film ‘The Ides of March’ where Presidential hopeful George Clooney is told that his team are issuing a press release saying that his opponent is having an affair. “Is that true?” asks Clooney? “I’ve no idea” says his campaign manager “but it’ll take him days to deny it either way……”

The advantages of a negative campaign by REMAIN are obvious, the unknown can be made to seem a scary place. By contrast for the LEAVERS dystopian visions are a difficult sell when the EU has been with us for 40 years.

What the LEAVE campaign does have are the old advertising favourites NEW and CHANGE. It worked well in Scotland where the ‘Leavers’ came close. A once in a lifetime chance to CHANGE to something NEW can be persuasive but the zeitgeist has to be with you and the reassurance that the future isn’t going to be terrifying has to be solid.

Will it work? I don’t know. Confucius said ‘For a man with no destination no wind is favourable’ and I suspect that might be the LEAVERS undoing.

Roger, who has had a successful career in advertisng, has been a regular PB contributor for more than a decade

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