LONDON — The U.K. will use “shock and awe” tactics based on behavioral science to spur businesses and the public to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition period.
The term, more often used to describe a military strategy of overwhelming force and closely associated with the Iraq war, is contained in a document setting out the government’s communications plan.
A massive information campaign is set to warn the public about the “consequences of not taking action,” before moving to a new phase focusing on avoiding losses as a result of the post-Brexit disruption.
The plan forms part of a £4.5 million advertising deal the government has struck with media agency MullenLowe London, which has also been working on communications around the coronavirus pandemic. The contract was found on the Tussell government procurement database.
Britain is set to leave the transition period on December 31, even if it fails to strike a trade deal with Brussels. Either way, there is expected to be new administration and checks on cross-border trade next year, as well as action needed by EU nationals in Britain, British nationals on the Continent and other groups in order to avoid disruption.
“The Transition Campaign is the most important government campaign this year,” says a tender document. It says the advertising blitz will begin in July and could stretch as far as May 2022.
Internal government data from October showed 61 percent of businesses had not even looked for information on how to prepare for a no-deal scenario.
The current plan is to split the publicity across four “bursts.” Between July and August there will be a drive to “nudge” or “shove” people to take action by warning of the “consequences and opportunity” ahead, before moving to a “shock and awe” approach between September and November.
Between December and January the campaign will focus on “loss avoidance” and from January 2021 onward it will be about “new opportunities.”
The strategy was drawn up with the help of behavioral experts after the “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign, which sought to prepare people and businesses for Brexit throughout last year, was criticized by the National Audit Office.
Internal government data from October showed 61 percent of businesses had not even looked for information on how to prepare for a no-deal scenario. The government said the numbers showed “there must still be a large degree of complacency amongst businesses.”
Government research showed businesses are reluctant to take action without certainty. Some, especially those working in cross-border trade, were more likely to prepare because of their concerns about the potential impact of Brexit, but the government noted that because of their worries they “will not respond well to overly positive messaging.”
Meanwhile, Brexit voters are “less likely to prepare as they don’t believe in any potential negative consequences of leaving.”
Polling in January this year showed 74 percent of U.K. adults had done nothing to prepare for leaving the EU and did not plan to. Eight percent had taken action and 9 percent intended to do so.
The new approach will use behavioral science to make people feel they should act and make them feel capable of acting. It will use some nongovernment channels to convey messages because “people have a higher level of trust in third parties and peers than they do in government.”
The document states: “With nine months to go, now is the time to ensure that clarity and certainty is communicated wherever possible about what will happen at the end of the year. Therefore we need to frontload preparation wherever possible, and ensure that any early misunderstanding is ironed out and appropriate actions are taken.”
The communications drive to prepare businesses and citizens is one of five “strategic goals” of the overall government plan for quitting the EU institutions at the end of this year.
Another goal is to convince the EU that the U.K. is ready to leave the transition period without a deal, while others include minimizing short term disruption and implementing necessary changes.
Are you a professional following the impact of Brexit on your industry? Brexit Transition Pro, our premium service for professionals, helps you navigate the policy, and regulatory changes to come. Email [email protected] to request a trial.