Agencies line up for euro assault

The British voter is about to be bombarded with a number of confusing messages about Europe and asked to make a decision about whether the UK should sign up to the single European currency.

The battle lines are being drawn up, but the walls are already tumbling around the pro-euro camp. The prospect of a referendum on the single European currency could be at least three years away, but campaign groups are already sharpening their swords for the fight.

It is a dry issue for many voters. Remember the turn-off that accompanied the European elections in June? Pity, then, the ad agencies which land the task of persuading the UK public to vote on whether to join the single currency or not. They will no doubt play heavily on simple stereotypes of their opponents – with the Yes camp decried as ‘Brussels Puppets’ and the No camp pilloried as ‘Little Englanders’.

There may be some truth in these images. But campaigners will hide behind them rather than concentrate on the complex economic issues which lie at the heart of the argument about the single currency.

With groups that claim to support UK membership of Europe but not signing up to the euro, the referendum could collapse under its own confusion.

This week a number of high-profile Marketing Week readers backed Tony Blair’s decision to put himself at the head of the pro-Europe campaign. Among them were Nestlé UK chairman Peter Blackburn, Ford chairman Ian McAllister, Granada chairman Gerry Robinson, and British Airways chairman Lord Marshall. They professed support for

Britain’s involvement in Europe and maintaining a ‘credible option for joining the single currency’ if a complex set of economic conditions are met. The conditions appear so complicated that no civil servant is able or willing to explain what they mean.

These captains of industry may be successful at selling confectionery, cars and even Coronation Street. But along with Blair – who has sold UK voters a brilliantly packaged vision of Britain – they appear like rank amateurs when it comes to promoting the pro-euro cause.

The anti-euro groups have gained the upper hand, because they can rely on the emotive issue of ‘ditching the pound’ and play on xenophobic fears of the UK being controlled from overseas.

The campaigns that launch this autumn in preparation for the referendum could be a chance for ad agencies to do what they do best – to present a strong, clear vision of the position they are backing.

Unfortunately, they are more likely to bring out the darker side of the adman’s art, and rely on stereotypes and scaremongering, none of which will help clarify the confusion.

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