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Branding Brexit: How Archetypes Explain Why “Leave” Won and “Remain” Lost

Although much has been written as the reasons for the Brexit victory, the pundits have overlooked a more fundamental explanation than the economics of need and the psychology of frustration…Brand Archetypes and a brand strategy! In a nutshell, Brexit branded “Leave” and “Remain” didn’t! Here’s how, why and what happened:

Voting is a form of consumer behavior except the currency is changed…from money ($, euro’s etc.) to votes. In both politics and economics, the underlying way in which people process information and decide is the same:

  1. As a species, humans are storytellers, symbolic communicators

  2. We connect with each other through metaphors, images & myths

  3. Neuropsychology confirms that we are wired to retain stories more readily than facts and figures, decide more on emotions than reason

  4. Finally, it is not what we experience that matters as much as what we remember from the experience ( take a look at Daniel Kahneman’s TED Talk, The Experiencing & Remembering Self)

  5. The “Remembering Self”, riveted by the intensity of emotional messaging , becomes the platform from which we launch our behavior.

“Warehousing” Ideas & “Distributing” Decisions

Our neurological systems are much like warehouses wherein we store information. What we choose to remember and recall for “distribution” are condensed symbols, stories and sound bites. To do so, we create storage buckets each with a designated name or category into which information is stored, recalled by relevant stimuli and then acted upon, i.e. “distributed.”

When there is a new topic for which there is no bucket in our neurons, the naming process becomes critical for it determines whether a storage bin will be created and, given its name, what will be placed in it. This naming readies it to receive remembered experiences. Our choices for forming these buckets rests on Archetypes, universal, roles which define our unique capacities and needs as human beings…some examples are Rebel, Lover, Caregiver, Everyman, all in our DNA, the expression of which appears in differing ways in different cultures and is brought into being by Brand messaging. Without such a bucket there is no place in our process of decision making for contrary categories of communication to reside. This is what happened to the ”Remain” voters! There was no “BrexStay” bucket, for none was created as no Archetype was identified by “Brexstay” supporters to frame the public discourse.

This process is even more intensified with the web and mass communication, wherein sound bites, compressed, condensed nuggets of information, the shorter, the scrappier (to touch our emotions) and the less statistical, the more likely the retention and the storage in the recall warehouse.

However, successful recall (needed, for example, to result in a turnout and a vote) requires both an emotionally driven brand strategy and a set of brand elements, including a narrative, logos and perhaps a tagline or co-branding, serving as brand promise.

Brexit’s Brand Strategy

For Brexit, the strategy was to focus on fear, fear of being left out, fear that traditional anchorages of daily life were eroding and their existence was uncertain, fear that others were benefiting from ones largess without reciprocity from the recipients ( EU, Immigrants, etc) but, more importantly, that what it meant to be “British” was being compromised. Brexit played to an emotionally charged identity crises for which it had an Archetypal solution!

The development of the brand elements capturing this strategy was critical to its success and followed certain classic brand creation guidelines:

  1. Create a unique name, one not easily replicated and, in reading or saying it, expresses the purpose of the brand.

  2. Make the brand name, easy to pronounce, spell, write and remember.

  3. Write a compelling brand narrative as to how and why you’ve come to be.

  4. Express an enduring Archetype anchoring your brand promise; make it culturally relevant and timely as an answer to the emotional crises.

  5. Get to the market first with these elements and use the brand name to frame all communications.

How the Brand Strategy Framed Communications

The content of their communications drew upon core British values and an iconic institution, the National Health Service (NHS), the UK’s universal health dispenser, the 5th or 6th largest employer in the world, widely regarded as the best in the world. In the UK consumer surveys confirm that it is held in esteem higher than both the Queen and the British Military! The NHS Archetype is Caregiver/Nurturer found in every culture as a neurologically based human need.

Brexit co-opted its symbols (using its logo in campaigns) and its standing as the penultimate symbol of being British, tapping into the deep equity of the NHS brand which had a halo effect on the new and unknown Brexit brand. They positioned themselves as more British than the opposition by calling attention to the “risks” to the NHS for remaining in the EU and how they were now were its self-appointed guardians of the penultimate Caregiver. This became the ingredients for their Brexit brand narrative:

  1. They claimed that NHS was being shortchanged by the EU

  2. They argued that local hospitals were less likely to service local residents because of EU membership

  3. They promised shorter waiting times at hospitals as more funds would come into the NHS system

  4. Finally they “validated” these claims by using the NHS logo on the sides of buses and in other communications, implying the health system supported these assertions which it did not!

None of the above was supported by data, statistics or evidence, but the emotional message out flanked the analytical facts.

Near the conclusion of the campaign, the HSN sued the Brexit organization for trademark infringement for using its logo…by then, in our post-factual society, the damage had been done and the “victory” won.

How Archetypes Can Drive Business Success

Not every brand, company or campaign understands the power of Archetypal connections; some do it instinctively others fail to see the ultimate foundation for their communication success. Most do it not at all.

Brands that identify their Archetypes early and build a strategy based from the outset on Archetypes, will enjoy a competitive advantage as they will mirror their core constituencies inner Archetype for an emotional complementariness; this will result in an authentic and intimate customer-centric experience and a more sustainable business model as transactional operations take a back seat to customer engagement.

The caveat to proper usage by Brand managers is an ethical sense of Servant Leadership, by listening to consumers and engaging in honest discourse with them in light of their needs.

Thank You!

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