There’s an old saying in business – half the money you spend on advertising is wasted. The only trouble is (the saying goes) you can never tell which half.
It’s not entirely true, of course. Considering the millions of pounds which are spent on advertising, it’s not surprising that researchers have come up with many different ways of testing ads before valuable time and space are wasted on them. Some of these methods – particularly those which claim to produce precise measures of effectiveness – are probably of doubtful value. But others are genuinely useful, particularly when they suggest – as they quite often do – that the target audience is likely to end up with an entirely wrong impression of what the ad is saying, or to have no idea of what it’s saying at all.
Having done a lot of this kind of research over the years, I’ve never ceased to be astonished at how often ads fail to convey their message effectively. One reason why this can happen is because advertisers take their advertising very seriously and tend to assume that the target audience will take it equally seriously. The target audience usually doesn’t. They are not very interested in advertising. It has to compete for their attention with a lot of other things which to the audience seem much more important. The first duty of any ad is to get attention. Ads often just don’t get attention, or not enough attention, or selective attention which takes in the wrong message.
This leads to one of the generally accepted rules of all advertising. Be positive. It can be extremely dangerous to give space to the point of view of a competitor or opponent, with the intention of proving it to be wrong. The first and most likely words which are going to be read are usually the initial headlines. Often they are all that remains in the mind afterwards. So never give your competitor or opponent a platform in your headline and be very careful not to sell your product, service or policy in a negative way.
Bear in mind too that people have an instinctive distrust of statistics. The old phrase about “lies, damned lies and statistics” describes most people’s reaction quite accurately. And of course people are actually quite right. Statistics are always selective and often downright wrong. Those who are trying to make a case, especially in politics, always seem convinced that statistics will add weight to their arguments. Often all they do is arouse scepticism and invite rebuttal by other statistics which seem to prove the opposite.
My own experience is entirely confined to research on commercial advertising, which is highly professionalised and almost universally used (not always well, of course) by the big commercial advertisers. Million-pound commercial advertising campaigns don’t go out without being researched first. I doubt whether political advertising is researched to the same degree. One reason for this is probably that politicians, being themselves professional persuaders, have their own very strong opinions on how they should sell themselves and their policies and often respond negatively to criticism. But they still make mistakes.
We are now commencing a long campaign to get Britain out of the EU. It will be a political campaign, but not an election campaign. Election campaigns are mainly about personalities. The referendum campaign may also degenerate into a campaign about personalities, but if it does, we shall probably lose it. David Cameron has successfully projected himself to the electorate as a “safe pair of hands”. This means that people instinctively trust him to make major decisions for them on subjects which they do not understand. And people do not understand the EU at all.
If the referendum is not about statistics and not about personalities, what is it about? Like the Scottish referendum, it’s about something far deeper – patriotism. The SNP were remarkably successful at arousing Scottish patriotism and that is why they did so well. But they didn’t win, because in the end, the Scots realised that their British identity was more important than their Scottish identity. So the Scottish patriotism which had been aroused made very little difference to the final result.
If we want to win the EU referendum, we need to ask ourselves why we personally belong to UKIP and will vote to come out of the EU. Why is it? It’s not because of economics. It’s not because of immigration. It’s not even even because of our incomparable leader. It’s because we are British and wish to remain so, and we have come to realise that EU membership is in fundamental conflict with our British identity. The electorate in general does not yet understand this. Most people have not yet come to realise that the EU is destroying our British identity. Our job in this campaign is not to prove that Britain will be “better off out” – it is to arouse the sleeping giant of British patriotism. If people can be woken up and made to realise what the EU is doing to our country, they will not need any statistics, personalities or persuasion to vote us out.