Whatever your opinion on the same sex marriage referendum, the No campaign delivered a well researched, focused and effective communications strategy. In essence, they identified an issue that resonated with their target audience and had a very simple and clear message to deliver. While the No campaigners were assisted by the equal time requirements for broadcasters, they had an uncanny ability to bring the conversation back to their core message at every opportunity.

It would appear to me that this was a well researched approach as clearly some people had issues with a child being brought up by same sex parents and the No side played upon these concerns. Although they were not overt about it, the No side clearly wanted to make people uncomfortable at the thought of two men raising a child. The use of the slogan ‘Two Men Can’t Replace a Mother’s Love’ on posters was an example of this in practice.

One of the simplest, but most effective tactics the No campaign employed during the Same Sex Marriage referendum debate was the names of some of the groups promoting a No vote. This was epitomised by ‘Mothers and Fathers Matter.’ Regardless of the fact that the Referendum Commission had advised the public that the referendum had nothing to do with adoption or surrogacy, anytime a spokesperson from Mothers and Fathers Matter was introduced, the group was essentially able to deliver its message as media outlets had to name the spokesperson’s organisation.

The main reason why ‘Mothers and Fathers Matter’ were so effective, however, was the sheer bullheaded approach of the group. Regardless of any journalist pointing out the Referendum Commission’s viewpoint or that there are already thousands of families with same sex parents in Ireland already, they went ahead and delivered their argument anyway. While some may have put it down to ignorance, this was clearly a well drilled machine that was focused on getting their message across.

While I may not have agreed with them, there are a number of aspects of the No campaign which underpin any good communications campaign.

  1. Have a clear picture of who your audience is.
  2. It isn’t enough to come up with a message and hope it will appeal.  Test your messages through research to ensure that they resonate with your audience.
  3. Keep it simple. People are bombarded with information everyday. Have a clear and concise message that you can deliver in 90 seconds or less.  If you can’t explain it to your mother, then go back to the drawing board!
  4. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Studies have shown that people need to hear a message between four to six times for a message to resonate.
  5. Factor your message into the name of your campaign. Whether it’s the name of your organisation or simply a campaign hashtag, don’t waste the potential opportunity to get your point across.

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Piaras Kelly
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