£46m Brexit ad campaign ‘ineffective’

A £46m government advertising campaign ahead of the October 2019 date for the UK’s departure from the EU did not result in the public being significantly better prepared for Brexit

The campaign also did not deliver value for money, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

At the point the campaign was stopped, £46m of the £100m budget granted by the Cabinet Office had been spent. The Cabinet Office estimates that the campaign reached 99.8% of the population and that each member of the public had the opportunity to see the adverts 55 times.

According to a survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office, 58% of people could recall the campaign and 73% recalled it when shown an advert.

However, the proportion of UK citizens who reported that they have looked or have started to look for information, did not notably change. It ranged between 32% and 37% during the campaign and was 34% when the campaign stopped.

The campaign was launched last September 2019 and ran for eighth weeks after the government and the EU agreed an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU to 31 January 2020. Its objective was to ensure that everyone was prepared for leaving the EU on 31 October.

While the audit watchdog said it was commendable that the Cabinet Office, which had overall responsibility for the campaign, was able to mobilise a complex campaign very quickly, it was doubtful whether it had any success.

The campaign was launched within six weeks of the start of the planning stage – the Cabinet Office’s own guidance expects government TV campaigns to be worked-up five months before launch.

In its business case, the Cabinet Office presented four campaign options of increasing scale from ‘do nothing’ to spends of £15m, £60m or £100m.

The £100m option was selected but the NAO found the Cabinet Office’s business case did not demonstrate increased impact for the proposed spending on the air campaign compared to the lower-cost alternatives.

The option chosen had two elements. These were an ‘air campaign’ to encourage people to identify what steps they might need to take to prepare, which included advertising through TV, radio, digital and other outlets, and a ‘ground campaign’ to encourage people to take specific actions in 26 priority areas.

The Cabinet Office gathered a lot of performance information but lacked a consistent way of measuring impact during the initial period of the campaign, which made it difficult to track the value delivered, the NAO said.

There was a plan for measuring achievement of just two out of the 26 priority actions that departments wanted citizens and businesses to take and performance reports referred to some but not all of the 26 actions.

There were signs that action was being taken on some priority areas such as passport renewal applications and international driving permits issued, which increased during the campaign, though the Cabinet Office did not assess this against what was likely to be needed.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: ‘At short notice, the Cabinet Office successfully corralled multiple government departments to work together effectively and launched this complex campaign at great speed.

‘However, it is not clear that the campaign resulted in the public being significantly better prepared.

‘If the Cabinet Office faces a similar challenge in the future, it should, from the start, focus much more on what impact is needed and how best to deliver the behaviour change required by government, targeting spending on the activities that are likely to add the greatest value.’

NAO report, EU Exit: the Get ready for Brexit campaign

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