Much to the irritation of my friends working on various facets of the Remain campaign, there was something we could just never agree on.
Project fear is the only way! They said. The focus groups said so.
But for me, this falls short because it fails to give us a single positive reason for WHY we should be proud to be part of the EU. It’s details. It’s facts. It’s figures.
But it’s not a reason to believe. The data driven quantification of deeply human concerns that has occurred on both sides of the EU referendum campaign is to blame for the fact that on June 23rd, people didn't care enough to understand the principles. And why should they?
Petulant bickering over numbers didn't sink in because numbers don't mean anything to us as individuals. As Dimbleby put it in the debates when a woman asked if billion meant thousand million, or million million: “it's neither here nor there”. And he was right.
Rolling out ‘expert’ after ‘expert’ was pointless and painfully short-sighted. The politicians may have forgotten that these are the very same people that failed to see the apocalyptic crash that was Black Monday in 2008. But we didn’t.
In advertising terms, they may as well have run a ‘50s style ‘scientist-says’ ad for haemorrhoid cream featuring Dr. Seuss. At least it would have been catchy, I guess. Not to mention this is all coming from the mouths of a long-held political elite that can’t begin to understand the daily concerns of the British public.
If we want to change behaviour - that's what we're in business for, after all – we need to appeal to what really matters. Who do you want to be? What do you want our country to look like? In other words, do we really want to retreat to isolationism in a world where collaboration is the only feasible answer to nebulous and increasing threat from all sides?
Indeed, the recent wins of Obamas 'Change' campaign and the SNP's mammoth sweep north of the border just thirteen months ago demonstrate that people vote for that which makes them feel better as people, deep down; more secure, more listened to, more decent citizens of a global community.
There’s also the truth that young people overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU, while the older generation turned their backs. Why didn’t we see this coming long enough ago to do anything about it? The #RingYourGranny campaign in Ireland’s recent Marriage Equality referendum just shows that people can be mobilized for the greater good just so long as they have something to get out of bed for. What a tragic, missed opportunity.
When Boris Johnson proclaimed June 23rd as Independence Day for evermore, even I got goose pimples; is this to be the new land of the free? The penny dropped in that very moment: we’d lost.
What was really genius about this was the fact that they pulled the trump card at the very last minute (and no, the irony is not lost on me). It was brilliantly surprising, powerful, debate-clinching. It was the political equivalent of a mic drop.
In reality the Independence Campaign – a train that has been hurtling towards us for quite some time now – is not about the UK, but the English nation. Before we can say ‘haggis’ we will have a Scotland who no longer see themselves as part of our union. We’ve been duped, and nobody was there to show us what really comes next.
Ultimately what lies ahead doesn’t matter because we voted with hearts beating the drum of patriotic optimism; pure hope for a country that can weather a world whose carpet has been whipped from underneath it.
The Europe that our grandparents fought and died for was one worth clinging on to. Reforming perhaps, but a bond to be proud of. We should be ashamed that the communication industry failed to remind us of that in a meaningful way.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Coca Cola sells happiness, Cadbury sells joy, Honda sells the power of dreams.
That’s the stuff people put their money on. Let this be a lesson to all of us in the communication business: data, numbers and stuff, that’s all fine, but it’s what gets our blood pumping that wins people over in the end.