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A Valuable Marketing Lesson from Scottish Politics

by Scott Martin

On September 18, voters in Scotland will go to the polls. It’s a referendum: yes or no. The question… do you want to remain a part of the United Kingdom?

That’s right, this September, Scottish voters will decide if they want to be a totally independent nation.

Big decision.

With a simple “yes or no” choice, there are two camps, each running their own marketing campaigns to persuade citizens to vote their way.

In this article, I’m going to focus on these campaigns and, specifically, on how people make decisions.

Every marketer can learn from this referendum. That’s why, as a direct response copywriter (and marketer), I’m paying close attention.

I spent my formative years in the United Kingdom and have spent chunks of vacation time in Scotland. I have close friends in Glasgow and the west of Scotland. I even listen to BBC Radio Scotland.

I love the country for many reasons, including the sense of humor, but I’m not here to take sides. I don’t have a dog in the fight. I’m not endorsing either point of view.

I’m not a politician. And I don’t write political advertising. But I’m following this event closely, in part, for the marketing.

Some quick background if you’re not living in Scotland or nearby


One of the major political parties in Scotland is the Scottish National Party (SNP). Scotland has its own parliament and it can make decisions about local issues—everything from smoking in a pub to energy issues.

The SNP dominates the Scottish Parliament. On December 17, 2013, the Scottish Parliament passed a law authorizing the referendum.

The only item on the ballot…

“Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Not surprisingly, the SNP wants voters to vote “yes.” However, an alliance of political parties and other entities wants voters to say, “no.” This alliance calls itself Better Together, as in “we’ll be a better country if we stay together with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.”

Selling the independence decision

The psychology of selling shows that marketing is not especially complicated.

This political situation involves problems, but it’s primarily an emotional conundrum.

Think of your last car-buying decision. Yes, you may have experienced a problem like a dead car. But it’s more likely you walked into a showroom looking for a car to replace your current vehicle, which was running at least decently.

You completed your research and chose model A. But then you were in the showroom and saw model B, a convertible. It was $4,000 more than your chosen model. But there was an emotional pull you couldn’t resist.

Feeling great about the world, you went for the convertible—then tried to justify the extra expense with some logic… logic supplied by the salesman in the car dealership.

As my friend in the marketing world, Andrew Wood, likes to say, “People buy for emotional reasons backed by logic.”

Let’s break down the independence decision.

The emotional pull comes from the intensity of being Scottish. The Scots are fiercely passionate about being Scottish. I could write several books with proof, but the most penetrating example is the march of the Tartan Army before Scotland plays in a soccer game.

Thousands of people, mostly men dressed in kilts, congregate, then march a few miles to the game. They sing. They drink. They go bananas. All for Scotland. Have a look. (You may want to lower the volume on your computer.)

I have travelled around the world, and from what I’ve seen, Scotland wins the award for the country with the most passion for, well, their country.

So it’s no surprise the SNP focuses intensely on this passion. Visit the SNP’s website and you can purchase a “Yes” t-shirt modeled closely after the Scotland soccer team’s jersey.

scotland football

The referendum is months away, but you’re going to see a lot of flags, pictures of castles, and happy people in Scottish gear.

Now let’s get to the logic side of the buying decision. Here’s where the Better Together campaign has been focusing its efforts.

You see, the emotional side of the argument gets people’s attention, but then there’s the logic. It’s where the customer asks, “What’s in it for me?”

The SNP argues Scots will be financially better off. The Better Together campaign says leaving the UK will be a financial disaster from every perspective: pensions, jobs, health care, education, real estate, and business development. According to the current UK government, Scotland will even lose the Pound as its currency.

Not surprisingly, the Better Together website focuses on what it sees as the logical side of the decision… with a page it calls simply, “The Facts.”

better together

The most recent polling data shows the “Better Together” camp with a lead. But it’s a lead that’s shrinking. At least 12% of voters are undecided and that number increases. Yes, it’s polling data, which isn’t always reliable. But one thing is totally clear: both sides will have to persuade those undecided voters.

Again, the key is using the textbook sales tactic of appealing to emotions backed by logic. The SNP have the emotional side down but must win the logical argument. The Better Together coalition must appeal more to the emotions to buttress their “logic” arguments.

In the next few months, follow the Scottish independence referendum for its marketing lessons. I would recommend The Scotsman or, if you want a bit more sizzle, The Daily Record.

Use these lessons in your own marketing

Take a few minutes to think about your marketing. Are you appealing to the emotions of your potential clients and customers? Do you even know these key buying decisions?

Once you have the emotional side of the marketing equation organized, you can focus on the logic—the tangible reasons people buy your product or service.

The Scottish independence referendum is, of course, more important than marketing. It’s the most crucial event in the country’s history for 300 years.

But pay attention to the messaging and you’ll learn some interesting marketing lessons, especially when it comes to buying emotions and buying logic.

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Scott Martin.

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Scott Martin

Scott Martin is a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has also written or edited 18 books including The Book of Caddyshack: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Greatest Movie Ever Made. Scott provides free resources for marketers including direct response checklists.


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