In the run-up to the EU referendum, we were all bombarded, to the point of “information overload” (RIP Alvin Toffler), with “facts”, opinion and argument, aimed at influencing our vote.
Some remained steadfast in their views throughout. Others were unsure even up to the last moment. But many, myself included, found that all of this information had a limited effect on helping us make sense of what was clearly a complex issue. We were in unprecedented territory after all.
And now, as the dust settles on the result, we hear, many votes were cast based on arguments that were skewed, illogical and factually incorrect.
Campaigners were tied to the standard approach: press, old-fashioned leaflets through letterboxes and (much-maligned) posters on billboards and buses.
All of which stirred a controversial, on occasion fascinating, but mostly quite perplexing, war of words waged on social media, TV, and in the papers.
And yet, when I look back, I’m sad to be able to recall just one piece of campaign communications ( “Brexit – The Movie”) that took the form of video content.
Why so sad?
At Klein & Sons we spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of video. We declare it to be the ultimate medium for storytelling.
For persuasion and education, not to mention selling, our belief is that video has the potential to be the most effective form of communication.
It’s how we consume information.
The explosion of video content backs that up. Digital video is experiencing unprecedented growth, not least among the young, thanks partly to device penetration.
It would seem an absolute no-brainer then, that during this most confusing and confused of arguments, there would and should have been a key role for video : helping our decision-making and playing its role as a key part in the communications mix.
But, as I say, I didn’t find that to be the case.
Now, post-Brexit, there are emerging a plethora of clear and easy-to read diagrams and descriptions of the ever-escalating complexities of our divorce from Europe. And very possibly there will be video content that does this job too.
So, why not last month?
Or for the past 6 months?
Why only now, when the issues are spiralling, is there an attempt to get this down? Where were the videos that could help me make my mind up, and present me with the competing stories?
One reason for this may that be video, as a communications channel, is still seen as a luxury, rather than a necessity, by those responsible for the communications campaigns. Leaflets and buses seemed to them a much more likely way to hit home with their target audience.
This is an indictment on their communications strategies, because it flies in the face of what we know.
Just behind the curve?
Or in the dark ages?
But these are politicians you might argue, not marketeers! They’re not on the cutting-edge of communications...
Well, you could sort of understand this late adopter attitude had this been, say 10 years ago. But 2008 saw digital strategy, in a political sense, come of age with the first Obama campaign riding it all the way to the White House.
And the Arab Spring taught us all about the power of social channels to galvanise huge numbers of people in a very real way. Today, Hilary Clinton’s Twitter feed is full of video content that is informative and persuasive (depending on where you stand).
Social as a part of the political communications landscape is now well-established. And video as part of social is undeniably established too. Ergo if you use social you should be using video.
Three possible reasons
One for the absence of video may be the question of costs, and the perception that it is necessarily expensive to produce videos.
It can be expensive, yes, and certainly the ‘biggest’ use of video, “Brexit – The Movie” came in at £100,000. The issue of costs were avoided altogether there though, given that the film was crowd-funded.
And yes, if you want to make a glossy 3D animated video on “Ten reasons to Stay in the EU”, this could threaten limited campaign budgets.
But video doesn’t have to be this way. User-generated content, low production values, shot-on-the-fly video is perfectly acceptable in this context, where content is king. Again, you only have to look at Clinton’s videos to see that plenty of them are really pretty straightforward in terms of their execution.
So I don’t buy this as an argument. And after all, these are people who commissioned advertising agencies (who are now publicly shaming their clients), and they are not cheap.
Alongside costs, it’s worth mentioning that the era of months and months in production is largely gone. Content can be turned out quickly and consistently. Plenty of campaigns rely on ‘real-time’ communications, though we prefer to ban that as another nebulous industry buzzword and just say that video content can be planned, generated, produced and distributed in hours, if the need is there.
A third argument for the apparent lack of video may be that both sides were content to let this battle play out primarily through the media. They allowed their respective allies to wage war on their behalf through their newspapers and TV stations. For them, influencing the argument through a coherent, consistent, and broad communications strategy was less important than making sure they said the right things on Newsnight.
A wasted opportunity ?
It feels like video was quite simply not seen as high enough on the list of priorities when it came to communications strategy during this protracted debate. And yes, this may just be a symptom of really poor communications planning and execution, or, to put it simply, “the lack of any type of plan whatsoever” – as we’re seeing now in the aftermath of the result.
But for those of us who believe in the power of video as a platform for storytelling, this is a hard pill to swallow. Not because we are naïve enough to believe that video would have ultimately changed the result, but because in this most confusing of debates, it could have helped to illuminate us all.