The latest 'Get Ready for Brexit' ad is worse than bad: it's forgettable

PUBLISHED: 15:23 23 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:24 23 October 2019

A woman rapidly forgetting a 'Get Ready for Brexit' advert. Picture: David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty

A woman rapidly forgetting a 'Get Ready for Brexit' advert. Picture: David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty

David Cliff/NurPhoto

The 'Get Ready for Brexit' campaign not a good look for either the government or marketing, writes JON GOULDING. Not only does it damage public trust in the marketing industry, he says it also shows that even £100 million can't buy you a smart campaign.

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Last week the government rolled out a 'Get Ready for Brexit' countdown calendar, the latest stage of an entirely pointless campaign which tells us nothing, wastes £100 million in funds we don't have, and is, in my opinion, devoid of any genuine creativity.

The campaign was launched last month while the government was trying - and failing - to call a general election. Its latest contribution, a fact sheet, ostensibly provides the information "citizens and businesses need to know about the preparations they need to take to be ready for when the UK leaves the EU". But the campaign, which is the largest campaign of its kind ever launched by a British government, tells us nothing that we didn't know already. "Check your passport" is hardly earth-shattering advice, while the latest series of 'explainer' videos more or less tell us to 'check' various things. So what are they actually explaining?

MORE: 'Get ready for Brexit' campaign tones down mentions of the UK's leaving date

But even if we put that to one side, creatively, the campaign lacks any imagination whatsoever. Some chose to call the original billboards 'pared-back' or 'text-based'. For most, that simply means 'bland'. The explainer videos utterly fail to induce anything approaching even mild interest. Surely such an expensive campaign, and one about something so important, demanded some imagination? The campaign is worse than bad: it's forgettable.

MORE: Marketing professionals mock 'Get Ready' adverts calling them a 'communications abomination'

That point should not be lost on Remainers or Leavers: it isn't a political point to say these videos are bad. Some of the best advertising of the late 1970s, as well as the 80s and 90s, was political advertising. Saatchi & Saatchi's 'Labour Isn't Working' campaign, for example, was so effective that it was not only revived the year after its initial launch, but was co-opted by the Republican Party in the US. Years later it was also appropriated by the Labour Party, who used the backdrop for their NHS campaign, 'The Doctor Can't See You Now'.

And even if you were to claim that this is 'government information advertising' rather than political spin-doctoring, there's still no excuse for bland work. The Central Office of Information COI, as it was before it was disbanded in 2012, were responsible for some of the most creative campaigns of yesteryear.

GALLERY: Led By Donkeys reveal winners of spoof 'Get Ready for Brexit' billboard competition

That so much money was spent on such a poor and pointless campaign is maddening. And since it remains very likely that the UK will not leave the EU at the end of this month, we may well have to endure another campaign in December which, in all likelihood, will come at an eye-watering cost to the taxpayer.

There's plenty of truth in the suggestion that the whole thing might have been cynical in the first place. So little thought seems to have gone into the campaign, both in its conception and execution, that it's hard to believe it was rolled out for honourable reasons.

And this kind of slapdash work does real damage. Giving the University of Edinburgh's annual Ogilvy Lecture, marketing veteran Jan Gooding called on marketers to "turn back the tide" on "fake news, fake facts", and her reasoning was sound: those in the creative industries do have great respect for divergent thinking and genuine debate.

But the abuse of marketing comms in the 'Get Ready for Brexit' campaign is not a good look for anyone. It casts both the government and the marketing and advertising industries in a bad light. It not only perpetuates the tired idea that marketing, advertising and comms is all about manipulation - it also suggests that even £100 million can't buy you a campaign that's original, attention-grabbing and memorable.

Jon Goulding is CEO at creative agency Atomic London.

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