June 15, 2008

Catching Fallen Stars

Oh no! It appears the Irish are politically incorrect.

I wrote in a previous post about how we Irish seemed to be dithering over our choice in the Lisbon Treaty referendum. Well, I was wrong. It was apparent in the final days leading up to the decisive No result (and in the reactions afterwards) that those who came out to vote felt strongly one way or another.

It's up to the political pundits to pick over the entrails of the contest and tell us what it all means but it appears through my particular shade of glasses that the biggest failure of all was that of Brand Europe. As a business-owner, I'm often guilty of seeing things from the point of view of the economy in which I do business, but it seems others around me were prepared to look deeper and question the impact of a more streamlined but perhaps less accountable method of government on our role in Europe.

Despite studying both the wording of the Treaty itself and the commentary in our media a lot more closely in the last couple of weeks, I'm not sure that it was quite as black & white as champions of either hue would have us believe. Whilst a Yes vote was almost certainly a vote for Europe, I don't agree with the suggestion that a No vote was somehow anti-Europe. We'll hear a lot in the coming days about the 'ungrateful' Irish who are seen to bite the hand that feeds but my reading of it suggests that the No vote represents a failure above all for Brand Europe to relate effectively with its customers.

Too often, those who speak for the brand adopt a lofty and patronising tone. Too many times, those who act on its behalf appear to ride roughshod over the practical and common-sense concerns of the people who stand in their way. Just as well-meaning governments worldwide are often clumsy in their choice of phrase and heavy-handed when they take action, our European political leaders have failed to convince us that they act in our best interests.

Much has been made of the argument that we don't have to understand fully everything we sign up to (if that were the case, they say, we'd never board a plane or take out a mortgage); however, none of us would sign up to something if we didn't fully trust the intentions (or competence) of those behind the document requiring our signature.

One of the real powers of a brand lies in its ability to make the small print something of an irrelevance. It's designed to make choice that bit easier. Some would argue that branding should have nothing to do with something as fundamental as a decision on the future direction of a community of hundreds of millions of people. But people don't choose as they should, they choose as they want to.

And branding has a whole lot to do with offering people what they want.

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