On 23rd June 2016 the little Union Jack flag perched on the back of my Japanese branded Honda motorcycle flapped in London’s breeze as I weaved through the traffic. The morning after the vote, I found the same flag ripped to shreds.
So, as a branding man, what do I think caused the UK not just to vote out of the EU, but leave the nation displaying a depth of abject woe worthy of having been orchestrated by the finest teams serving North Korea’s Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) and Provincial People's Assemblies (PPA).
Reason one: woolly direction to recalcitrant sheep
Around 8am on results morning, the Prime Minister deliver his defeat speech outside Number Ten:
“We have made great steps, with more people in work than ever before in our history, with reforms to welfare and education, increasing people’s life chances, building a bigger and stronger society, keeping our promises to the poorest people in the world, and enabling those who love each other to get married whatever their sexuality.”
Throughout the ‘me-myself and I monologue’, Dave’s hands clung to the podium like a baby to his mother’s breast. His bottom lip quivered. The political obituary even bought a tear to the eyes of his lovely missus Sam.
Like virtually all left – centre and right UK party political diatribes – his speech was full of hearsay dogmatic ‘acts’ rather than leadership provable deeds. By the time he stepped away for the podium Brits had given up being treated like sheep by the likes of Timber Wolves of Threadneedle Street.
“We have made great steps, with more people in work than ever before in our history, with reforms to welfare and education, increasing people’s life chances, building a bigger and stronger society…”
Just about everyone I know has seen life opportunities collapse under the government’s reign. (And yes – much of the blame also lays with Dave’s predecessors).
Client rejected advertising created by M&C Saatchi
Exorbitant education fees left an entire young generation with the distinction of being branded “Generation Rent” carrying colossal debts throughout the rest of their lives Left to support them, whilst simultaneously coping with vicious redundancies spanning back to 2008, former middle-class parents are at best struggling to survive or, at worst left to rot in an ancient Spinalonga -like cesspit peppered with rusty signposts reading “surplus to society’s requirement”.
Defend their arguments to stay, remainers ramped up the anti-Brexiter rhetoric, fostering the narrative that only the elderly, unemployed, or those without formal education supported separation from the EU.
“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble”.
(Facile advertising concept created by CHI & Partners)
“Building a bigger and stronger society,
keeping our promises to the poorest people in the world...”
According to the latest Department of Work and Pension figures, the number of UK children living in poverty leapt by 200,000 since 2015 alone; leaving 3.9 million children currently living in “relative poverty.
As for Dave’s comments on gay rights – it’s true that during the post referendum results weekend, in a ‘show’ of unity, London retail brands desperate for the 'Pink' (or any other colour for that matter) 'Pound' dressed their windows in Pride colours.
However, according to a recent survey published by ‘Pride in London’, in reality, the majority of the LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community feel compelled to lie about their gender or sexual identity.
10% of LGBT+ respondents compared to 2% of the general population reported being bullied at work because of gender.
77% of LGBT+ respondents were felt uncomfortable being their true self in public, against 23% of the general population.
59% of LGBT+ respondents had felt threatened by other people's attitudes and behaviours towards them, compared with 16% of the wider population.
Me thinks some brands protest too much…
As in countries like The States, the UK disdain in leaders’ thin assurances and abilities run deeper than distrust in politicians alone. For example, despite manicured puffery regarding corporate social responsibility … according to many commentators for some brands, commercially Brexit may turn out not to be that dire after all.
According to Kantar Retail, German discounter Aldi’s “relationship with British farmers” places them in a stronger position than those sourcing from outside the UK. Aldi and Lidl are also primed to benefit in the short and medium term.
John Brennan, CEO of Amaris Hospitality explains that for the British hospitality industry leaving the EU serves a much needed boost.
Airlines including Ryanair and Monarch exploited Brexit sentiments to promote low-cost European fares. Exploiting lower running costs may push easyJet – the ‘Airline brand of the People’ to move offices to a new European location. The brand blamed uncertainty in the economy and among its consumers, and lowered revenues by some 5% “at least” compared to the same period last year.
At the upper end of the luxury spectrum, just 22% of 2015 of Louis Vuitton sales were invoiced in European currency, whereas 32% of sales were in dollars; implying its brand prestige is not led by Europe.
Being unchained from Euro-bureaucracy, the UK now has the potential to reach a truly global ‘free market’. Already, Chinese shoppers alone account for a fifth of UK tax free shopping. According to Shanghai Daily, Chinese consumers spent $183bn on shopping sprees abroad last year. The news source also reported dramatic increases in bookings to the UK following news of the referendum, with most tour packages to the UK already sold out for this summer.
Despite backing the remain campaign, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is also not letting the short-term depressed pound halter business. A brand spokesperson told the Independent newspaper:
“We will work hard with all parties to ensure that the importance of the British automotive industry is fully understood at every level of the negotiation process.”
In fact, Toyota’s North America profits more than doubled after the brand exploited a weak Yen and demand in North America.
"The stock market has not plunged- far from it.
The FTSE is higher than when the vote took place.”
(Boris Johnson – the Daily Telegraph July 3rd 2016)
Two weeks after BRExit, at one point, the pound saw a 31 year low against the US dollarBloomberg’s Intelligence analyst Duncan Fox, said that the UK currency weakness may be of advantage short term, stimulating demand, “particularly before trade-tariff talks start”.
Banking brands Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, both headquartered in the UK, are said to be vulnerable. Whilst politically unlikely, RBS and Barclays may move out of London – potentially promoting the government to turn to the British public to cover any costs of short-sighted planning.
Shortly after Brexit, British CEO of Deutsche Bank, John Cryan noted:
“We cannot fully foresee the consequences, but there’s no doubt that they will be negatives on all sides.”
(Incidentally, according to a Financial Times 2015 report, whilst Mr Cryan’s package had not been disclosed, his predecessor drew a salary of €3.8 million in the previous year, as well as another €2.8 million in long-term and short- term bonuses).
Numbers no longer count
At the start of my career, apprenticeships counted for more than employing young people at absolute rock-bottom conditions. Whilst back then, like now there were some selfish bosses – on the whole – ordinary workers were made to feel like people rather than commodities.
Psychologists even suggest that voting to leave the EU has provided a conduit for the ‘regular’ Brit to say: “I’ve had enough of nameless, faceless organisations processing me as an insignificant number out of 738.442.000 souls. (Estimated European population numbers).
Reason two: noise – not voices
Like actors in an Orwellian narrative, everyone is constantly reminded that thanks to tech, they are more informed than ever. The old world of “In GOD WE TRUST" has been replaced by the currency of rumoured global knowledge crowned with the slogan: “IN GOOGLE WE TRUST”. As people’s propensity to delay clarifying for themselves what data via a swipe of a device can be interpreted to prove assumptions increases… Brexit shows just how naïve people have become towards soundbites as they become resigned and so conditioned towards it.
“Crowds of young people are experiencing the last psychological tremors of Project Fear – the most thoroughgoing government attempt to manipulate public opinion since the run-up to the Iraq War.”
Even more disturbingly, the Googlefication of actual truth has led to altering conveniently distant facts into soundbites –remixed to re-present history for different agendas.
Hate Tweet from person describing herself as ‘End Marxism+Zionism’ ironically in her case implying that Nazis were evil in wanting to massacre Jews– (bearing in mind her own sentiment about Jews in her Tweet title).
As with generations of youth before them and undoubtedly those that follow, with over thirty years’ experience of working in advertising, I can confirm that young adults are particularly easy to manipulate into feeling insecure about what others think of them, from boyfriends to girlfriends, peers, bosses, partners… (never pausing to consider that those same people could be equally insecure).
Within hours of the result, Millennials took to Twitter venting frustrations at Oldies for demolishing future dreams. Like all youth who tend to delay anything worth doing until the last minute, the outcome of the referendum could have been so different simply by turning up at the voting booths. (But to give them credit – it was raining pretty heavily that night).
Just 36 per cent of 18-24s bothered to vote
Reason three: Brits love a good sulk.
Social media moaning is raucous. When modulated, it can become a rallying call. However as in examples like the Arab Spring, rallying cries can end up in tears and short-lived. Far more effective is the natural art of human sulking. Tears, slipups and screeches stir a level of understanding that doesn’t even require words – or for that case - emojis.
During infancy comforting simply happened. Needs were deduced through sulking.
Any adult who has ever experienced a personal or professional relationship can confirm that like riding a bicycle, once learnt, the art of sulking is easily remastered.
Brexit typified adult British sulking. Outwardly the sulker acts stoically. Inside they are bawling “Be my parent. Figure out what I really want and feel.” Should the message still not get through, sulking turns into tantrums, which in the case of the British, evolves into organised protests.
From BRExit to BREmain, BREgret, and BREverse: the vote inspired BuzzFeed style headline writers (Let’s BREmain cap sold courtesy of New York Yankees - made in China).
Some argue that if the referendum would have been postponed for several years– the ‘old school’ guards would have either died out, been too frail to leave old age homes and vote, or bowed out of politics, leaving anyone born from the 1990s onwards with the majority say. However, by then, austerity through remaining in the EU – or whatever political branded soundbite the term ‘austerity’ would be known, would turn that generation into becoming just as cynical as the old codgers they currently loathe.
Thanks to the malevolent majority, this heartbroken little girl will never be able to get her teeth fixed on the NHS again.
Reason Four: the ‘I’ word
A pre-Brexit published article in The Guardian, reported that assuming the UK remained in the EU, the number of people living in Britain was projected to rise from 64.6 million in mid-2014 to 74.3 million in 2039.
Whichever party leader’s portrait has hung in Number 10 – (including for many years the Labour Party) politicians have ducked and dived the tricky issue of immigration. In recent years, as influxes of immigrants willing to undercut wages became increasingly conspicuous; driving up the cost of living for everyone, even the slightest hint of concerns shared by growing swaths of the population were immediately denounced as either xenophobic or unequivocally racist.
Yet it is clear that politicians from all major parties realised immigration numbers were at best beginning to feel ‘uncomfortable’. Jack Straw, Labour’s former Home Secretary, for example, conceded that setting no restrictions on migration in 2004 was “a spectacular mistake” as well as a “well-intentioned policy we messed up.”
This piece is not meant to be a history lesson, however it;s worth a couple of paragraphs to present a brief reminder regarding the central origins of the European Union. Following World War II, France and Germany devised a precautionary plan to preserve future peace. In 1950, six nations signed a pact to pool vital coal and steel resources. Six year's later The Suez Crisis saw British Colonial power effectively come to an end.
Seven years after agreeing to pool coal and steel resources, a treaty signed in Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC) - the foundations of today's European Union. The UK was one of three new members to join in the first wave of expansion in 1973.
Whilst the UK was always keen for common collaboration, as the late Margaret Thatcher saw it, when it came to a single European currency – unity was one thing - acting as lemmings was a leap too far.
“Every single fixed exchange rate has cracked in the end.
We’re all at different levels of development of our economies.
Some countries simply couldn’t live up to a single currency…We should each of us be proud to be separate countries cooperating together.”
(Margaret Thatcher, October 1992)
Over two autobiographies, "The Downing Street Years" (1993) and "The Path to Power" (1995) Margaret Thatcher wrote that that Germany would chafe at the inevitable need for greater inflation, and that poorer countries would inevitably be uncompetitive and need bailouts that would not easily be forthcoming.
Today’s geopolitical landscape is a far more potted alien backdrop than its former self. Wars, energy watersheds, failed governments, religious/tribal motivated feuds, politicians placing self-interests before concerns of governed people.... left ethical members of EU paying for the greed of the corrupt.
Broader afield global conflicts helped destabilise trust further still. Following 9/11 the US was obliged to show it remained a dominant military power. At the time it admitted that it could not sustain war efforts in different global regions alone. Published just weeks after the EU vote, the much awaited Chilcot report revealed the darker side of the special relationship between the UK and US; a dimension which the report suggested contributed towards the 2003 decision to go to war in Iraq - and subsequent increase in regional power for terrorist groups like Al Quadia.
Taken collectively, deep cynicism in leaders contributed (in part) to the majority of UK citizens expressing their mistrust of leaders through voting to leave the EU.
Forget U-turns – the UK wanted a two-way street
One of the cornerstones of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty was permitting free movement of people.
Excluding extremists (who sadly always exist throughout the world) Fair Play has long been part of the British psyche; extending a hand to those seeking a common goal on an equal playing field. But for Fair Play to actually work, it has to be a two-way endeavour.
(Plaque outside Liverpool Street station London)
Taking opportunity of a free movement, many in EU states understandably sought escape from what had in some cases become deeply divided, despoiled or even violent places.
With level playing fields from Brussels to Paris and even beyond as far as Istanbul and Damascus appearing more like potholed Badlands, watching a dramatic surge in cultures demanding acquiescence to their ways of life in priority over existing national lifestyles, 52% of the country, perhaps misguided by political and media influences, or simply guided by what they could see with their own eyes, believed the very identity of a nation previously globally acclaimed as being rich in diversity and united by a common purpose was, to use the British vernacular, ‘getting the piss taken’.
Add a sense of widening division between the haves and have-nots, relentless media diet of uncontainable zealots prepared blow themselves up for their rights over others (taking everyone with them along the way) it is hardly surprising that the increasingly beleaguered classes were left to make a dramatic choice: Accept and amalgamate as part of a very different global landscape than they had originally built for their children, or when given a clear democratic opportunity, save any remnant of the nation’s brand heritage.
It not just the economy stupid
However earnestly campaigners attempted to prove immigrants brought in more than they removed from the economy, they failed to take into account human anxiety needing substantiated – rather than pithy advertised reassurance.
Reason five: from concern to fear, anger… then … hysteria
Desperate people say and do desperate things –even if it causes themselves harm.
In the lead up to the referendum those amongst the ‘Remainers’ formerly with reputations for level-headedness started to exhibit what could be described as tell-tale signs of unrestrained madness.
“Nationalism is on the march across the Western world, feeding upon the terrors it seeks to inflame,” wrote Harry Potter’s creator, J.K. Rowling, in a vociferous post on her website.
“Finding the present scary? We’ve got a golden past to sell you, a mythical age that will dawn again once we’ve got rid of the Mexicans/left the EU/annexed Ukraine! Now place your trust in our simplistic slogans and enjoy your rage against the Other!”
Proposed advertising by M&C Saatchi on behalf of J.K.Rowling’s political argument to remain in Europe
Bremain voters posted a video of a Boris Johnson Brexit speech on PornHub
Yet, in her defence, a week after Brexit, I spoke to a former American Marine who had served two terms of duties as part of the Coalition. He had recently met an official government employee at the British Home Office.
Noting the former Marine was Jewish, the British official refused to speak to him in English and called for an interpreter – All this despite the Marine having a complete set of American documents proving he was born and bred in New York. The official cursed the Marine as an Islamic fundamentalist attempting to weasel his way into the UK!
The current state of the world has undoubtedly emboldened previous closet racists, borderline anti-Semites and bigots (including the leader of the British Labour Party who in the very same week that a Palestinian man stabbed to death an Israeli 13 year old girl as she slept inside her home, had the impudence to use Zionism in a veiled synonym for anti-Semitism – comparing the Middle East’s only democratic state with that of its partly ISIS controlled neighbours openly seeking to wipe Israel off the face of the map.
Fact: One fifth of former Bernie Saunders supporters would vote for Donald Trump as he “speaks plainly”.
(Source The Daily Show June 2016).
24/7 exposure of unscrupulous leaders from institutions to zealots and businesses, sway some overwhelmed by logocracy to mistake racial rhetoric from politicians like Donald Trump as statements from a leader prepared to “speak plainly for the unheard common-man”
Irrespective of whether the UK remained in Europe’s club of bureaucrats, as in all aspects of branding, perception is everything. Well-founded or otherwise apparent pan-global threats to national and regional identities and self-regulation are on the rise. Beyond enchanting snow globe views of world unity, never since the first steps towards a common Europe following World War II have ordinary people felt so threatened by a genuine loss of national meaning, communal unity and personal purpose.
Treat the salt of the earth like scum of the earth and don’t be surprised when they shovel back heaps of gritty anger.
For as long as we don't live in a world led purely by corporatocracy, people can still democratically express their fury and frustration of having enterprise stifled by bureaucrats. Equally they have the right to feel safe and expect respect for their way of life as they would expect others to respect them – especially when on ‘home ground’. However, the UK fell into a trap of naively believing the EU referendum was primarily about jobs and the economy and other worthy material things that virtuous materialist Marxists view as the core of all that matters.
Speaking in Africa last year, President Obama confessed to being mystified that so many of the continent’s despots cling to power and could not possibly want for any concrete comfort. As with both pro and against Brexit campaigners, what Obama overlooked was something that marketing people have long known: Even when selling the most modest of goods such a £1 Union Jack flag, it is emotions beyond material needs which truly guide the hearts and deeds of women and men.