It’s not EU, it’s me: how PR impacted Brexit

It’s the morning of the 24th of June 2016. You wake up like any other day and get ready for work. You open up your phone and in bold letters, ‘Britain votes to leave the EU’ jumps out. Silence. You slowly begin to process the news. Depending on who’s reading this, some might of felt shocked, enraged even, others ecstatic, relishing the new feeling of independence.

No matter what way you look at it, it’s undeniable that Brexit is a hugely significant event. It has momentous political, economic and social consequences that we’re still trying to understand.

What’s also significant to this complex political situation, was the power of PR in influencing the final decision.

One could even say that the cause of Brexit, despite its complexity, can be simplified into the following argument:

The Vote Leave camp and those who backed it, ran more effective PR campaigns than the Remain camp, therefore it influenced more people to view leaving the EU as favourable.

Why was it more effective? Well for starters, The Vote Leave slogan, ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’ had far more of an emotional impact than the Remain slogan ‘StongerIn’, which had an inclusive feel to it, but not to the extent that ‘taking control’ has.

The Vote Leave slogan made it feel as though Britain was undergoing some unprecedented revolution and is likely to have influenced many voters to favour Brexit. They saw it as reclaiming the independence that had been lost to the wave of multiculturalism.

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And of course, there was the infamous “Brexit Bus” with it’s £350 million pseudo-promise to fund the NHS. No matter what side you’re on, this was an excellent piece of propaganda. A clear, believable number that effectively circulated around both sides of the campaign, Brexiters argued that the EU drains our precious NHS, whilst Remainers angrily disputed its accuracy. Either way, everyone with a flicker of interest in Brexit knew about the Brexit Bus. Major exposure win here.

Meanwhile what was happening with the Remain PR campaign? Well, it had #ProjectFear, a movement trying to exemplify how a Brexit push was largely based on unfounded fear-mongering. This might of been true, but it wasn’t unhelpful. In fact, it might of even worked against the Remainers, as Brexiters exposed this movement as just another manipulative negative campaign against them.

Also, as the £350 million figure on the side of the Brexit Bus firmly stuck in most people’s heads, the Remainers claim that every family would be worse off by £4,300 felt weak and potentially untrue. Good PR? Not. At. All.  

What must be mentioned is that the most misleading and biased information came from groups supporting the Vote Leave campaign. Thousands of Russian ‘trolls’ circulated Brexit-supporting hashtags though fake Twitter accounts. Hashtags included #EUref and #BrexitOrNot with negative comments against UK-EU partnership on the day of the EU Referendum. Although we can’t pin the outcome on just this, we can certainly say it had some influence.

What many people don’t realise, is how important PR was on both sides of the referendum, especially on the Vote Leave side. Solid evidence-based facts were largely swept under the rug for more bombastic rhetoric, all in the attempt to persuade the public one way or the other. PR attempts to influence, but propaganda attempts to mislead. The Brexit Bus reveals how the Vote Leave is guilty of peddling propaganda but that's not to say the Remain campaign was so innocent in its PR, they too were peddling propaganda to some extent, especially with the claim that every family would be worse off by £4,300.

Overall, the one thing we can say for certain is that the Brexit situation is seriously complex, and we, as humans, don’t like complicated. That’s why simple, sleek PR is so appealing. The Brexit case is just another example why the power of PR should not be underestimated, for better and for worse.

BY BEN BROWN, ACCOUNT & GROWTH EXECUTIVE AT CEW COMMUNICATIONS.