Why Remain failed to capture the imagination of young voters in the EU referendum – a marketer's perspective

Chris Whitelaw
Gutted: Keira Knightley in the #Don'tF**kMyFuture campaign (Source: YouTube)

In the absence of official exit polls, data from Sky, the FT, the BBC, the Guardian and others indicate a failure by the Remain camp to convince millennials to vote in the EU referendum.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, given that this demographic seemed to be largely pro-Europe, but it is hardly surprising, given the deficiencies of its media campaigns. And with Leave happy to let the young abstain, it was free to make headway with its older target audience.

It would be easy to lambast the young for not engaging with a vote on their future. But I’m not a politician, I’m a marketer. So I lean towards trying to understand how and why the referendum, and specifically the Remain campaign, failed to capture the imagination of our youth.

Data from GlobalWebIndex on 18-25 year olds in the UK shows that, overall, they are 55 per cent more likely to be influenced by online ads, but under the national average for responding to TV. They are also 57 per cent more likely to be influenced by social channels, 36 per cent more likely to watch branded videos, and well over twice as likely to be influenced by vlogs.

In short, online media and video are key to engaging them.

In terms of outlook, the young are 25 per cent more likely to say they want to work and live abroad, and 21 per cent more likely to say they like to be surrounded by different people, cultures, ideas and lifestyles.

They are also slightly more optimistic about the global economy than the rest of us.

All of this means they are more likely to respond to rhetoric around inclusion and opportunity, than words of financial doom and gloom.

So what of the campaigns we saw? Leaflet drops focused on the economy – an analogue media choice which used content which didn’t tap into young people’s love of other cultures.

A campaign from Bite the Ballot did decide to go digital, partnering with Tinder to encourage users to swipe left or right on EU “fact or fiction”. But the “need state” isn’t right in such a context. Flitting from looking for a date to digesting economic and legislative facts about the EU isn’t natural.

Read more: Campaigns haven't been relevant to younger voters, says poll

In June, Britain Stronger in Europe (BSIE) turned to celebrities to endorse Remain. But Vivienne Westwood, Keira Knightley and others chosen won’t resonate with a young audience which idolises reality TV stars. In fact, a Brexit themed Big Brother challenge might have packed more punch. An earlier campaign from BSIE which ran across social media used straplines like “chillin, meetin, tourin, #votin”. This message was more appropriate, but even its own creators admitted they expected young people to mock it.

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