European fairytale instead of a cold hand on a fevered brow
By Zoran Ivanov
In terms of turnout, the referendum was not successful. Never before, when there was a state organization of any kind of national expression have there been so many people staying at home. Certainly, this was also because of its non-motivating character in terms of the facultative and institutional non-obligatory character of the referendum result. However, success or failure can and should be treated in accordance with party convictions or with general political conjuncture, as it happens, judging by the multitude of analytical reactions to the subject of referendum.
In the numerous analysis of the causes and consequences of the referendum result, the campaign as one of the important motivating factors for public animation, and one of the key incentive elements for encouraging turnout, has remained untouched by the analytical public. And one of the strong reasons for the low turnout was precisely the campaign.
Citizens did not believe the media messages. They did not believe the numerous TV spots with the bright smiling faces of young artists, public figures and party officials. In addition to the opposition’s anti-referendum activities and the effects of the callers for the boycott, it turns out that the extensive, intense and costly media campaign did not give the effects of the planners. On the contrary, it sometimes was counterproductive and motivationally repulsive. At times politically emphasized as an additional demotivation for the politically neutral.
Where did the PR masters do wrong?
In two words: in the beginning and at the root. It was obvious that the scope, the points, the design, the content of the messages not only didn’t touch the majority of people, but on the thirtieth of September, among other factors, the campaign, too, kept them at home. It did not urge them to come out to express themselves. The public did not believe the contents of the slogans for the “bright future”. Moreover, while the European postulates were the basis of the campaign points, there was not a word nor a video spot about the Prespa Agreement. Not a word nor a video spot about the compromise agreement with the southern neighbour. Not a word, nor a video spot, not even a touch of the sensitive elements of its contents. Precisely because of the ignoring of the emotional points in the agreement, and against the opposition party messages, the citizens raised their guard. In the campaign, they recognized an attempt to manipulation, a feeling that they were being thrown dust in their eyes, that the contract was a cover for something very big.
Citizens know European values. They know their thorny path to them. They are very well aware that on this road there is a daily and long-term homework including renouncing many habits. It is a path with a painstaking creation of new institutional and individual values, with strenuous reform challenges and with abandonment of many domestic traditions.
People did not know and do not know the agreement. Statistics from the polls revealed a minor percentage of citizens who got familiar with its content and especially with its essence. Despite this fact, the campaign lacked an educational, explanatory approach. There was no emphasis on the compromise, there were no interpretations regarding the irritating components, the emphasis on the concessions on both sides was absent, the most emotional and the most painful points regarding historical themes were hushed up. For this reason, the campaign had even an undertone of lie. Instead of affirming the very term and the very essence called “compromise”, it was selling a foggy future in the style of Lenin’s post-revolutionary communism. Instead of the current Macedonian trauma, the campaign dealt with distant European horizons. It did not offer a cure for the pain provoked by the feeling of losing identity features. Such approach of campaign products caused a resistance to the referendum.
The creators of the paid media campaign obviously did not collect authentic materials. They did not sense the moment of the social setting. They did not come out among people to hear them and especially to feel their reactions in the street, on the market, in the supermarkets, at school, in the hospital, in Saraj and Drachevo, in Berovo and Gostivar, in Prilep and Lipkovo, in Veles and Vinica.
On the other hand, the opponents of the referendum were more successful campaigners. Without going into the content they constantly made noise in a propaganda manner about the harmfulness of the treaty, the endangered identity elements, the national treason, the inadmissible concessions, the historical defeat, the redefinition of the national past, the erasing of history.
The cabinet design of the media campaign with emphasized accents of the European future at the expense of the everyday life had no contact with the ones it was intended for. People did not accept such an address. To them, it was not sincere. It was counterproductive, even repulsive to them. It was without sense about the national feelings, about the emotional harm of the Macedonian citizens, especially the ethnic Macedonians. It was a campaign of fluid values against the real emotional shocks caused by the inevitable compromise in the interstate agreement mystical to them. This type of propaganda undermined their pride and aroused their spite.
The strategists have missed their strategy. The cabinet design of the referendum campaign with high emphasis on the European dream at the expense of the domestic reality did not feel the pulse of the citizens. Instead of a cold hand on a fevered brow, the campaign offered them fairy tales. Instead of motivating them to come out, referendum propaganda with dominant emphasized marketing manners and over-emphasized intensity, had the opposite effect. It stimulated people to stay at home.
Therefore, according to the results of the referendum turnout, it would be a good idea for the PR creators to think about changing profession.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Inbox7