16 Jun 2016

Flotsam and jetsam on the Thames

Paul Moore – Senior Account Executive at Spreckley

In case you live in a cave, the EU referendum parties engaged in a minor skirmish on the River Thames this week.

In one boat, Vote Leave with Nigel Farage at the helm and, in the other, Vote Remain with Bob Geldof owning the megaphone. Followed by a flotilla of fishing boats, Farage wanted to urge Parliament to take back control of British waters for British fisherman, while the Live Aid rock star yelled that the UKIP leader was “no fisherman’s friend”. The spectacle and slur-slinging match that followed was closely followed by both national and international press. Unsurprisingly, many commentators ridiculed the event as confusing, puerile and immature.

For many, it was a good opportunity to laugh at the drawn out debate surrounding the EU referendum. However, those in the communications industry likely cringed when witnessing the sea-faring brawl. PR companies have long used London’s most famous waterway as launch points for client campaigns. Rugby balls, eBay birthday cakes and Thunderbird ships have all been floated down past Tower Bridge to become local and national talking points.

In some cases, it has proven a successful idea. Decorated boats or statues on flotillas can make striking images, attracting both onlookers and photographers from the UK’s news desks. That being said, most nuanced messaging typically masked by these stunts, with many campaigns failing to make a splash.

For example, when you see a giant statue of the PG Tips monkey (made of plastic leaves) floating down the Thames, what do you think of? The spectacle was intended to promote a ‘green paper’ the tea brand was releasing to support its green tea project, but that isn’t clearly communicated by the green monkey itself. Similarly, when Londoners saw Jedward on a speedboat with blow-up sharks attacking them, would they relate this to the release of Sharknado 3 or instead just be glad they probably wouldn’t hear from Jedward much longer?

In many PR agencies, ‘why don’t we send it up the river,’ is commonly a euphemism for ‘we have run out of ideas for this campaign’. While I cannot speak on behalf of Vote Leave or Vote Remain, I imagine their campaign managers won’t look back fondly on this week.

In any type of communications campaigning, creativity is the name of the game. Both politicians and PR professionals put aside our love affair for the Thames in favour of more ground-breaking ideas.