The battle over whether the UK should remain in the European Union is likely to trigger a direct marketing boom – worth millions of pounds to the industry – as rival camps turn to direct mail, digital advertising and telemarketing to try to win over British voters.
The prospect of a surge in marketing activity has already triggered a warning from the Information Commissioner’s Office, which this week issued a nine-point notice to campaigning groups and political parties.
In it, the ICO warns groups that they must comply with data protection and electronic marketing rules in the lead-up to the referendum – or else – and cites enforcement action it took against the Better Together campaign during the Scottish independence referendum.
The regulator insists that failure to adhere to the law will result in similar punishment to referendum groups as well as “reputational damage” to their campaigns.
While opposing sides draw up their battle plans, the European Commission is said to already be plotting one of the biggest ever UK direct mail campaigns – with no cap on spend – to convince UK voters to stay in the EU.
It has set up a task force in Brussels to oversee a massive marketing push in the run-up to the in/out vote, which could be held as early as this summer.
And because the Commission is based in mainland Europe, it is exempt from UK election laws that limit spend on advertising and direct marketing for political parties, a move which has sparked uproar among “Brexit” advocates.
The “Vote Leave” campaign has now called for public donations to help build a war chest to fund its own marketing campaign to win support for Britain pulling out.
Vote Leave group chief executive Matthew Elliott claimed there was nothing to stop the Commission from sending direct mail to every voter in the UK in an attempt to “scare” the public into voting to stay in the EU.
“The referendum rules have been rigged so that pro-EU campaigners can hugely outspend the leave campaign,” he told the Telegraph. “All UK-based campaigners will have spending limits placed on them. The only organisation exempt from these rules will be the EU itself.”
However, large-scale direct mail campaigns would be a welcome boost for postal operators, with both Royal Mail and its main rival Whistl keen to get a slice of the action. Door-to-door distribution companies could also benefit, if the Commission decides to opt for a leaflet drop.
One sector which will be licking its lips in anticipation of large contracts is the data industry, as targeting will be crucial to any acitivity, although the irony of the situation has not been lost on some.
One industry insider said: “Data-driven marketers have been at loggerheads with the Commission for years over the General Data Protection Regulation, which threatened to wreak havoc with the industry. Now, those same companies will be bending over backwards for the chance to supply accurate consumer data to Brussels.”
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