The EU referendum is raising the temperature in pubs and living rooms across the land. Few topics truly engage people as much as politics or religion. Marketers know that, too, and the many differing views, concerns and warnings being shoehorned into the referendum debate make it an excellent platform for content.
Whether campaigners have realised this is another matter. Google Trends finds that plenty of searches are being made, with interest heavily geared towards Leave-related queries. A quick look at a Google search for ‘Brexit’ or ‘EU referendum’ reveals neither the Leave nor Stay camps have used Google Adwords to push pages to the top. Maybe the click-through cost required to make any difference is prohibitive.
So there is still plenty to play for in terms of leading the debate. Content marketing can, and should, have a key role in this. Here we return the results of our own mini referendum on what campaigners and businesses are publishing in the run-up to June’s poll.
The jostling for position by the different pro-Brexit organisations has drawn comparisons with the infighting between the various pro-Judean groups in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
However, the Ukip-backed Leave.EU campaign seems to have a number of voices within its own content strategy – among them Grassroots Out (its own site) and the Great British Fudge Off.
On the face of it, the Great British Fudge Off (or GBFO) is a well-produced site featuring satirical cartoons and articles. Here “fudge” refers to the agreement secured by David Cameron over Britain’s role within the EU. Therein main thrust of the site.
Beyond the cartoons, there are articles, testimonials and posts from private individuals and businesses negatively affected by the EU. Regulation in particular seems to be the main issue. But these are serious ideas and arguments; so far so good.
Then things take a bizarre turn.
Although a little too obvious, the point they are trying to ram home with the fudge idea is that the EU agreement is a poor compromise. It is, or at least should be, a metaphor. But there is a sense that the campaign has been taking it too literally – because there are actual fudge recipes. A satirical recipe for making a deal like Cameron’s would be funny. But this is for real fudge – the sugary stuff. There are gallery shots of confectionery… above anti-EU quotes. You can even buy it. Moreover, we have actually made it.
Overall, it looks a little disjointed. Being critical, it’s downright wacky.
In: nicely designed site.
Out: reinforces Out’s oddball image.
Voteleave has taken a more sober approach to the campaign. Its home page is stark, with a money clock above the fold adding up UK contributions to the EU in real time. As we write it stands at £506,860,062,442. By the time you read this it’ll be higher.
It’s a powerful point. But where is the proof for its calculations. Lesson one in journalism: what you write must stack up factually. A little sensationalism is forgivable, but there’s a thin line between that and coming over all Donald Trump.
The figure looks good but lacks any point of reference, which is a problem. People are searching for information to help them make an informed decision. Money is something we can all relate to.
As with candidates’ campaigns for the Labour leadership, the site has been created using NationBuilder (a US company). The technology is geared around campaigns, fundraising and galvanising followers. And although the site differs from Jeremy Corbyn’s, they both share an uninspiring off-the-peg feel.
Another area in which it differs from Leave.EU is content. There are views and in-depth information, including comment on Cameron’s deal and what the UK would look like outside the EU. But little blogging or daily reporting on the debate. Curiously, this happens via daily emails to its subscriber base. It’s odd that this cannot be included on the main site. It should be relatively easy to add and suggests the email hand doesn’t know what the website hand is up to.
In: the kind of meaty, serious content you would expect.
Out: lacking day-to-day news and slightly bland. No links to social media.
The UK government
Most of the content reviewed here is online. However, the UK government decided to go against the grain and run a direct mail drop to every house in the country. Coming in at a reputed £9 million of taxpayers money, if it is not the most expensive piece of content reviewed here it is definitely the most contentious.
Many have questioned whether the government should have taken the move. Some have even said the mailshot’s pro-stay stance could even push people into voting to leave.
From our point of view, the question is whether it is content and if so is it any good?
It is a 16-page booklet, filled with small sections. Rather rapidly it pushes through various issues on each page such as immigration, economic uncertainty, EU benefits. The text itself is on the left. On the right, the bit people will read, there are pictures with large captions no doubt designed to lodge in people’s minds.
- EU membership brings economic security, peace and stability.
- Over 3 million UK jobs are linked to exports to the EU.
- If the UK voted to leave the EU, the resulting economic shock would risk higher prices of some household goods.
Maybe it is the medium, but it comes across as a little bit desperate. Like someone desperate to speak about everything that is in their head before they run out of breath. There is certainly more fear than fact. Regardless of the sentiment, it seems like they have tried to hit too many bases at once. In doing so they may have missed them all.
In: A bold and expensive move.
Out: Very negative in its approach.
This is another site built with NationBuilder. However, of all those we’ve seen it is probably the best one at making the most of the platform.
Importantly, there is plenty of content. Like many NationBuilder sites, the Britain Stronger in Europe home page is dominated by calls to donate, sign up and participate. It seems designed to bring out the ‘already decideds’ rather than those who have still to come off the fence.
It has links to recent events and the news section is well stocked. Issues such as World Women’s Day or an intervention by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney are all covered in stories of around 300 words.
Where it fails is on in-depth content. This is illustrated by the Get the Facts section. A typical headline is “61% of UK small business exports go to the EU”. Clicking through reveals nothing more than a repeat of the headline and picture from the index page.
One curious point: we were unable to view news stories unless we signed up for cookies. An odd strategy if you’re desperate to get your message out there.
In: up-to-date content on the campaign.
Out: lack of in-depth information and too much focus on fundraising and participation.
Hargreaves Lansdown (HL) is a financial services company based in Bristol, probably best known as a provider of Sipps and similar investment products. It is also a keen adopter of content marketing with its own magazine, Investment Times.
The uncertainty created by the EU referendum has led the company to produce both short and long-form articles. There is also a Brexit-focused landing page on HL’s site. This features material pulled in from publications such as the Guardian, Reuters and Bloomberg.
HL co-founder Peter Hargreaves is a Leave.EU backer. Earlier this week it was revealed that he is funding a mailshot to 20m UK homes. A sizeable section of HL’s editorial is devoted to explaining that Hargreaves is no longer employed by the firm or a director, and its views on Brexit are impartial.
The two lead stories – written by HL – are ‘What does the EU referendum mean for your investments?’ and ‘What the risk of Brexit could mean for sterling and for you’ are well positioned for its target market. Interestingly, the other licensed stories seem to reflect a pro-remain stance.
In: lots of relevant content.
Out: could be improved by a better spread of views.
Investment fund Woodfood has published an in-depth report, which it is pushing through Google AdWords. The document, available both online and as a pdf, was produced by Capital Economics and covers the implications of Brexit on areas including immigration, financial services and foreign investment.
Well written and produced, with quality infographics, it’s targeted at a more discerning reader. But that’s where it ends. In contrast to HL’s proposition, it is a report rather than coverage of events as they happen.
In: well produced and the only company to use Google Adwords.
Out: nothing reflecting contemporary events.
In or out? The verdict
From a content perspective, all the campaigns represent an improvement on both the general election and Labour leadership contest. However, many of them seem to be targeting the converted rather than winning over new support. There is probably a lot to be said for this. Activists are central to any campaign. But in the end it will come down to votes and bringing on board those who have not made up their minds.
There is relatively little content produced by commercial companies. Obviously, there will be fallout for British business whichever way the vote goes – so it’s no surprise that investment firms are producing their own material. Unlike the campaigners, this tends to be highly targeted and well researched. Looking to inform rather than push a particular view. Exactly what good content should do.