The polling stations are open and the pundits have spoken their last (we wish). As we await the result, what are the marketing lesson that we can draw from the results achieved by the Yes and No campaigns.


The Yes campaign won the day because it had a better marketing mix. It had a very effective social media campaign in comparison to Better Together. It also ignited the debate at grass roots, with local events, leafleting and doorstep canvassing. When it did use mass media advertising, it kept the message simple and emotional.


On the other hand the quality of the advertising messages was poor on both sides. The messages were too simplistic and incoherent to really appeal to a sophisticated audience.

Strategy and Planning

This can be difficult to read from the outside looking in but the failures on the No side are the most glaring. Firstly they ceded ground to the SNP by allowing the Saltire to be used as the image of Scottish independence. If you were against the independence movement, then you were against the national symbol. That is an unsettling proposition for anyone.



Secondly they had a disjointed approach to their brand and messaging. Was it Vote No, Better Together or No thanks. All three featured prominently.


Thirdly, they did not assess their communication strengths and weaknesses. Social media was always going to be a weakness. No only were average No voters probably younger and more social media savvy, there were always going to be more social outlets for independence than for the union. People are not individually motivated to set up sites to agitate for the status quo. Passionate separatists were always going to be stronger in this channel. However this could easily have been anticipated and dealt with during a well planned communications review.

So the No comes out a winner in this area.

Marketing Execution

Here are some of the adverts that were used:

Yes Campaign – My Generation

No Campaign – The woman who made up her mind

Yes Campaign – Yes means..

The point has already been made that the Yes campaign reduced the picture of the union that they were selling to a spreadsheet of facts and figures. This has all the appeal of a visit to the dentist (or accountant if you have one). The political adage that “if you are explaining then you are losing” also applies to some marketing activity, particularly to awareness creation. Mr Darling should have known better.

The important marketing point is that advertising is an emotional medium and even if your message is mostly factual, you must create some emotion around it to do TV adverts. Otherwise don’t bother.

The Yes campaign did that to some extent, but how much of that was by accident, only the insiders will know (especially if they win). The failures of the know campaign are clear in the above examples. However if I was a political campaign strategist looking back, I would not use either set of adverts as a model.

They both fall into the trap of simple audience research being converted into characters that represent the audience. Let’s picture Mr and Mrs Bloggs, create their habitat and then find a way of telling them all the good/ bad things that will happen to them. Modern audiences are far too sophisticated for that type of simple creative process. Hence the slightly gauche reels above.

This especially true of the second video clip. Find a Scottish looking woman and put her in the context of the home with kids – Mrs 2.1 average Weegie. Unwrap her character and those around her: self-absorbed kids, husband an aggressive Nat supporter, telling her what to do. Then let her tell how she made up her own mind, like any good, modern, brave, independent female would. I mean, really?? How long did that take them?

So, from a marketing point of view Yes comes out on top, but more through the failures in the No campaign than through any outstanding planning or execution on their part. If the marketing planning and execution is anything to judge by, a 300 year-old political union may have been lost through benign neglect.