Never PR a Scot

A campaign that simplifies a complex issue, personalizes benefits and uses simple and popular imagery is bound to succeed, right?

On 18 September Scots will vote to decide if Scotland should be independent of the UK.

Those for the status quo argue Scots will be better off if they elect to remain with Great Britain. Last Wednesday Her Majesty’s Treasury published an analysis estimating every Scot will be 1400 pounds better off by staying with the UK.

They followed up with 12 examples of how a Scot could spend that extra money, illustrating each option with Lego figures in cartoon-like situations. For example the extra money would allow someone to:Scottish Independence Image


  • Scoff 280 hotdogs at the Edinburgh Festival.
  • Watch Aberdeen play all season with two mates and have a   few pies and Bovrils thrown in for good measure.
  • Go for one haircut a month for over 3 and half years or more often if they were a man!

Part of the Government’s approach invited people to tweet how they would spend the extra money. (#UKDividend)

Over the years I have known quite a few Scots and they are intensely proud people.  So it should have come as no surprise that many were incensed at what they saw as the Government trivialising the financial arguments.

Hot dogs and Lego figures outraged Scots and had them saying things like patronising nonsense and how bloody dare they treat us all like imbeciles?  

Not only that, but pro-independence advocates challenged the Treasury’s figures and Lego demanded the Government stop using its photos for political purposes.  The company which recently ranked #9 globally for corporate reputation, wanted no part in a battle between furious Scots and their southern neighbours.

So is there a PR lesson?

The original PR idea may have been quite sound.

Simplify the economic arguments about Scottish independence, include a WIFM factor (what’s in it for me) an  average person might understand, and introduce humour and popular images into the campaign.  Obviously missing from the mix was one very big element – emotional intelligence.  Someone failed to understand the Scottish audience and the fierce Celtic pride that beats within every Scottish breast.

Good communications may involve assembling the right mix of campaign elements but at its core lies understanding your audience and how they might react.

PS – I just checked the offending UK Government website and Lego images have been removed.


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