Inside the `Yes’ campaign

Strategy asked copywriter Peter Byrne, of Toronto-based Einstein Brothers, to give us his story of what it was like working on the `Yes' advertising campaign. Byrne was responsible primarily for the radio creative.Iworked for the Canada Committee. I admit it. I'm...

Strategy asked copywriter Peter Byrne, of Toronto-based Einstein Brothers, to give us his story of what it was like working on the `Yes’ advertising campaign. Byrne was responsible primarily for the radio creative.

Iworked for the Canada Committee. I admit it. I’m practically proud of it.

Forget about the Bessies, the Billis and the Marketing Awards.

I’ve got a purple heart.

I mean, this has to go down as one of the biggest flops in the history of Canadian advertising.

And I was very much a part of it.

Were mistakes made?

You bet. Absolutely.

All kinds of mistakes. All over the place.

What would I do differently if I had it to do over again?

I don’t have a clue.

So much happened during those four weeks that it’ll take at least four months just to process it.

Just to digest it.

Forkful after forkful of crow.

I got it all wrong.

At least I’ve got company. Some of the biggest names in Canadian politics, and some of the biggest names in Canadian advertising got it wrong, too.

But just a word to those of you out there who might be feeling a little smug.

Your day will come.

This time it was the Canadian people’s discontent with politics.

More accurately, with politicians.

How far behind can big business be?

Or small business for that matter?

For the past year I’d noticed a trend in focus groups.

They were never a picnic. But they were becoming more and more surly. More sceptical. More cynical. More hostile.

But until I attended the focus groups on the referendum, I’d seen nothing.

These were the executional considerations:

1) Don’t wrap yourself in the flag.

2) Don’t use scare tactics.

3) Don’t make it slick.

So this was to be rational advertising.

Give people solid, rational reasons for voting ‘yes.’

Solid, rational, unslick radio.

No music. No sound effects. No gay repartee.

Just a single voice. A voice of reason.

‘People,’ they told us, ‘Were starved for information.’

So we gave it to them.

In digestible little 30-second nuggets.

Spoon-feeding a hungry Canada.

And what was the reaction of focus groups?

‘Bullshit,’ they said.

‘More government bullshit,’ they said.

‘What do you take us for?’ they said.

‘Why should we believe you when you’ve lied to us so often in the past?’ they said.

Geez, I said.

Perhaps this wasn’t an entirely rational decision. Perhaps emotions, feelings were at least a part of the equation. The next week, we went back to the groups with demos that weren’t entirely fact-based.

We tried appealing to their hearts as well as their minds.

This wasn’t strongly emotional stuff, but there was an emotional component to the advertising.

And what was the reaction of the focus groups?

‘Bullshit,’ they said.

‘More government bullshit,’ they said.

‘Just give us the facts, we’ll draw our own conclusions,’ they said.

‘Don’t try to scare us. Don’t tell us voting `no’ is a dangerous thing to do. And don’t tell us voting `yes’ is the patriotic thing to do.’

Geez, I said.

Things that motivated people in the past, didn’t work this time.

Things that worked in the past, may never work again.

The referendum allowed the Canadian citizen, the Canadian consumer to utter – no scream – those famous words from the movie Network:

‘I’m mad as hell. And I’m not going to take it anymore.’

As a veteran of the ‘yes’ vote fiasco, I’m here to pass on the message.

It ain’t working anymore, folks.

If we want to talk to people, if we want them to listen to what we have to say, we’ve got to find new ways of doing it.

They’re just not buying our shit anymore.

Call it a new pessimism. Call it a new cynicism. Call it a day if you’re going to ignore it. It will not go away.

Like the recession itself, it will separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and yes, the employed from the freelance.

I have seen the enemy. And it is us.