The No campaign has a classic advertising problem: they need to turn a negative into a positive

So far their message has been weak and lacking in ambition
  • @bbhlondon

In less than three weeks Scotland votes on whether to become a separate nation, breaking its ties with a 300 year old union. In order to win, the No camp must confront a classic advertising problem: how do you counter the powerful challenger overturning the traditional brand leader?  It’s Apple vs Microsoft, Pepsi vs Coke, Audi vs BMW.

As the ‘challenger’, Alex Salmond offers freedom, independence and prosperity, all wrapped up in a saltire and declarations of destiny.  It’s pretty heady stuff. The ‘brand leader’ unionists counter this defensively, implying that Scotland needs the rest of the UK. The message is to keep to the status quo. But this is weak, and lacks ambition.

On top of that the unionists underline their argument with constant negativity.  How much oil is there? What will happen to our currency? Will the EU readily accept a new nation? In any campaign it’s perfectly acceptable to point out the negatives in someone’s case. But not if negativity is the only message you transmit. This is another classic advertising dilemma: how do you counter a seductive, powerful, emotional call to ‘buy’ when your proposition on the ballot paper is framed in the negative?

Advertising teaches you that people buy the future; you have to offer them a vision that is modern and forward-looking. Whatever one thinks of the SNP case, they are doing exactly that. The challenge for the unionists is to take a negative and turn it into a positive. 

There is an answer to this dilemma that turns the tables on the Yes camp and offers the No voter a positive feeling. And that is a ‘Vote No Borders’ strategy. A campaign that turns the No vote into a vote for the future. A vote that understands where the world is going.

We can readily argue that the history of the world is one where as we broke borders between nations, we also broke borders of class, race and creed. The world has not only become a safer place, it’s also become a more prosperous one. When Europe was riddled with borders it was constantly at war. Fragmentation increases conflict. A Vote No Borders campaign would remind us that we don’t progress by going backwards. The union between our four countries has spread wealth, opportunity and influence.

A final point. Europe is in a precarious place. Dissatisfaction with the EU is growing throughout the continent. From the Catalans to the Belgians to the Corsicans, across Europe there is a clamour for independence. If Scotland votes Yes, the others will surely be emboldened to pursue their own narrow agenda, taking Europe back to a fragmented past. Will that be Scotland’s legacy? It’s not one I would wish for. 

Vote No Borders is the way out of this debate, reminding people of the value and opportunity of togetherness.

John Hegarty has been at the forefront of the creative advertising industry from the early days of Saatchi and Saatchi to Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the global company he runs today.