If Europe was a brand, would you buy it?

First, a quick reminder that a brand is defined as ‘the name given to a product or service from a specific source’. (The cynical might point to the origin of the ‘brand’, as a device for identifying cattle, as being especially appropriate to Europe and its advocates.)

As an entity, Europe produces nothing as such (though some might say it produces nothing but trouble). So for the sake of this analysis, we can view Europe simply as a service provided from its headquarters in Brussels.

Anyway, on June 23rd, we get the opportunity to take part in the United Kingdom European Union Membership Referendum. It will be the political equivalent of a visit to comparethemarket.com but unlike with a comparison site, there won’t be an array of alternative brands vying for your custom. Just one, Europe’s competitor brand, Brexit.

So how do you arrive at the answer to ‘should we stay, or should we go’?

Well, perhaps the way to decide is no different to the decisions you make about which broadband, energy, insurance, mobile and other brands you stick with, and which you ditch.

So, question number one is, are we better or worse off financially staying with brand Europe, than we are leaving it?

Often, the deciding factor about whether to stay with a brand, or go, rests upon whether you think you’re getting a good deal, or not. When it dawns on you that you’re paying well over the odds for a service (aka being ripped off), that alone can prompt a sudden switch.

Sometimes, as with your energy account for example, it’s very difficult to work out the true picture, as the presentation of the evidence is frustratingly complex, to the point where it’s impenetrable.

This same confusion, multiplied billions of times, is true with brand Europe. How are you expected to calculate whether Britain pays in more than it gets out, or vice versa? You probably can’t, but it is vital that you convince yourself one way or the other before voting – otherwise you could end up inadvertently doing yourself out of a good deal.

Question number two is, do you trust brand Europe?

Do you believe what brand Europe says about itself and its direction? Big corporate brands struggle most in this area as they are generally viewed with suspicion, and Europe is more comparable to them than to the leaner, cooler, challenger brands.

Virgin is often cited as a sizable brand which has maintained a high level of trust, but brands like this are few and far between. Then there are brands which have maintained sound reputations over long periods, only to one day reveal their filthy underbellies, which completely reverses their fortunes. The Cooperative Bank, would be a recent example.

So which kind of brand is Europe? A lumbering behemoth? A cool challenger brand? Or a brand which started out with the best of intentions, but then became the author of its own misfortune.

Question three must be, do you buy in to brand Europe’s proposition?  

Every brand should have a compelling reason to exist, otherwise it shouldn’t exist.

Until sullied by the Clean Diesel scandal, VW’s proposition was reliability. Volvo’s is safety. Tonka Toys were the strongest toys you could buy. The Economist’s proposition was always knowledge to help you get ahead in business.

So what is Europe’s compelling proposition? Lasting peace? Opportunities to trade? Equality for peoples and nations? Or what? Britain has already rejected many of Europe’s central ideas, such as Schengen, the Euro, and Economic and Monetary Union, so we are fairly unenthusiastic participants in the project. Successive British governments have metaphorically unchecked all those webpage boxes that brand Europe asked them to check so they could foist more and more Europeanness onto us. We’re not, in naff marketing lingo, ‘valued customers’ of brand Europe.

To arrive at Europe’s proposition, it’s worth taking a look at how the Remain and Brexit campaigns fight their corners.

Remain has earned the nickname ‘Project Fear’, which worries me as a professional marketer. Instinctively, I need a clear, positive message. You only knock your competitors when you are desperate. Brexit, on the other hand, stands accused of providing positivity, but without any substance, and that is also a concern, because in marketing, persuasiveness is really all that matters.

I am not going to suggest you vote one way or the other.

But I do suggest we apply the same criteria to brand Europe that we have applied to all those brand Xs we have bought into, or rejected, at one time or another. This will help us decide what we really think, rather than blindly accept what we’re told we should think by ‘brands’ (Remain and Brexit) which don’t seem to know, themselves.

Oh, and here’s another question for you. If Europe were your spouse, would you stay with them, or dump them?

I know what I’d do.

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