The EU Referendum Has a Millennial Marketing Problem

So far the EU debate has been dominated by older voices, and neither Leave nor Remain seem to know how to engage younger voters.

Politicians are notorious for pandering to older generations over the under-30s, and the EU referendum has been no different. According to a YouGov poll posted in April 2016, 73% of 16-29-year-olds favour the UK remaining in the EU, compared to 45% of those in their 50s and 37% of people 60 and up.

It’s a generational war, and the figures show that Leave has been largely successful with the traditional target demographic for politicians (over 30’s). Their materials have pushed issues such as state contributions and the benefits bill, which are more likely to enrage taxpayers. There’s also a perception that people were “conned” by the 1975 referendum, which millennials weren’t born to see.

Remain, however, has the most support in the demographic with the least turnout. Establishment figures such as David Cameron and Nicky Morgan have found themselves having to engage a generation they’ve largely dismissed with just a month to go. This May the Remain campaign made a token effort to reach out to all those hip young people who may be “Votin” this time, through a political broadcast that draws heavily from the playbook of how not to speak to millennials:

As you can imagine, the stunt backfired. Instead of connecting with their audience, the campaign drew the ire of major influencers such as the Huffington Post – who somehow managed to ridicule the video while bigging up their own role in its launch – and VICE, whose writer described it as:

“a robot’s attempt at creating content for young people based on watching a Mr Oizo music video.”

How did design agency Venturethree get things so off the mark? They focused on superficiality rather than engaging with millennials like adults. Here’s designer Scott Townsin explaining the message:

“It’s obvious. It’s loud. But we felt for this audience it had to be. With the less ‘official’ style, you get a slight ‘us and them’, anti-establishment feel.”

To be fair to Venturethree, they haven’t gotten things completely wrong. It’s true that young audiences have shorter attention spans when it comes to video content, and it does differentiate itself from the jargon-filled rhetoric that’s normally thrown around. Townsin was right to aim for an “anti-establishment” feel, as Cameron’s brand is toxic to a large part of the younger base.

But it just doesn’t go far enough. The message is patronising (or is it “patronisin”, now?) and assumes millennials don’t care about the long-term; the ad’s backer, education minister Sam Gyimah, even chooses to refer to us as “the easyjet generation”, which isn’t ignorant or reductive at all. Yep, all we’re concerned about are cheap flights, not housing or employment conditions.

The real problem is strategic. The campaign uses the same top-down approach of “here’s our message, now vote” rather than adapting for the millennial audience. There was no opportunity for co-creation or participation, no way for people to engage directly with the campaign and feel that their voice has value – all despite the plethora of research out there that shows that’s what we want from brands as an audience.

If Remain really want the under-35s to turn out in force, they need to connect with us on a deeper level than a Connexions poster.