Magazine article The Spectator

The Wiki Man: Rory Sutherland

Magazine article The Spectator

The Wiki Man: Rory Sutherland

Article excerpt

People sometimes ask what slogan could have swayed the Brexit vote: the opposite of the touchstone phrase 'Take back control'.

There are many suggestions, my own being: 'Don't leave -- it's what the French want us to do.' No Europhile committee would ever have approved a jingoistic slogan, of course; yet the feelings of committed Europeans are irrelevant. Those people will vote Remain in any case. Instead you need to reach the ambivalent, sceptical or mildly hostile.

This raises the central question about communication: do you want to feel good about yourself, or do you want to change the minds of others?

The art of sloganeering can serve two powerful ends -- persuasion or cementing tribal allegiance. Usually you can't do both. Since tribal solidarity was critical for most of our evolutionary history ('slogan' derives from a Gaelic word meaning 'war cry') we may be unduly drawn to arguments which are good for rallying the troops but useless at growing wider support. Neil Kinnock's 'We're all right' Welsh hwyl at the 1992 Sheffield Rally was a masterclass in getting this wrong: effective in the hall, disastrous on TV.

A casual analysis of the chants of football supporters shows that they are not what you'd call persuasive. When Glasgow Rangers fans in 1980 sang 'Would you like a chicken supper, Bobby Sands?' to the tune of 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain', they were not reaching out to Celtic fans in a bid to forge a wider ecumenical consensus. Millwall fans, too, have clearly given up on attempts to widen their franchise: 'No one likes us -- we don't care.'

Advertising seldom communicates in this way. Headlines such as 'Range Rover Vogue -- for people too tasteful to buy a Porsche Cayenne' or 'Enjoy your Waitrose shop, you overpaid sucker' are rare. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.