Janet and John Do Advertising – Badly

I delayed last week’s post until after the glorious / miserable (delete according to choice) day when the UK left the European Union. For those overseas, this happened at 11pm on Friday 31st January.

The wait was so that I could, without being accused of political point-scoring write about the incredible ad campaign run by the Government to ‘Get Ready for Brexit’.

I use the word ‘incredible’ in its literal sense. The campaign run by the Government was hard to believe – it was a monumental waste of money (£46m had been spent out of the quoted budget of £100m when the Brexit delay occurred); it featured awful creative; and it used media so badly it will probably feature in a ‘how not to do it’ case study taught to future students of media planning.

Let’s go back to the beginning.

Brexit was supposed to happen on 31st October 2019 (note that date). The Government decided to run a campaign to advise us all how to prepare for Brexit. As at that stage there was no election planned there was no suggestion that this was anything other than a public service announcement campaign.

The first thing that happened was a budget of £100 million was set aside and two lucky agencies were appointed.

No pitch, as far as anyone can tell, the agencies were just appointed – to a £100 million account. The agencies were Engine (fun fact: Engine’s recently-past President, Robin Wight once stood as a Conservative Party candidate) and the American-Omnicom-owned OMG.

The budget was widely seen as ridiculously high – after all the campaign wasn’t likely to run for more than a couple of months, three at most given that it launched at the beginning of September.

Then the campaign appeared. You can judge for yourself but suffice it to say that ‘Campaign’ described it as ‘a communications abomination’ in awarding it their coveted Turkey of the Week award for bad advertising.

Finally the media placements were shall we say questionable. ‘Campaign’ reported one such with the ad appearing in an article on the controversy around the Northern Ireland border issue (you obviously can’t experience these online placements now) whilst wondering if ‘placements (were) so crassly absurd it’s hard not to think someone did it on purpose for the lols.’

A thoughtful piece by the respected ex-agency now consultant Robert Ray on LinkedIn asked: ‘Why would anyone – Brexit or otherwise – use a newspaper ad to simply attempt to direct someone to a website somewhere else to read whatever it is they want them to read?’

I wonder if the obsession with online media forms and the use of addressable messaging via the likes of Facebook has driven planners to forget the basics of how offline media works? Newspapers contain lots of words that people who buy them like to read. Long copy can work brilliantly well in that environment.

Anyway, with all that money and the brains of two very competent agencies it worked, right?

No – apparently it didn’t. The National Audit Office found that: ‘Auditors said the numbers of people looking for information about Brexit did not notably change as a result – ranging from 32% and 37% during the campaign, to 34% when it stopped, having spent just under half of the allotted money.’

These atrocious results would never have happened, or tolerated had someone competent at the client been involved, like the dearly-departed COI.

The agencies are of course good agencies – but even good agencies ultimately follow a client brief. The client knows best, or to paraphrase Michael Gove – who needs experts?

Mind you – maybe it did work and we’re looking in the wrong place. A General Election was called on October 31st (that date again) and took place on December 12th, with Boris Johnson’s Brexit-loving Conservatives winning a large majority.

Not of course that the ‘Get Ready for Brexit’ campaign was really a Conservative party election campaign hiding in full sight. Election campaigns are funded by the party, Government information campaigns by the taxpayer.

Perish the thought.

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