(The psychology and perception of brands Yes versus No)

Until a few days ago I, like so many in the broader union, had not given the Scottish Independence referendum much thought. But as the vote approached like a ghost ship out of the fog, I felt the chill of division and the sadness pangs of a prospective divorcee momentarily upon me.

Musing on the M1 heading north today I began to consider the psychology of perception around the terminology and visual language of the two opposing campaigns. Unlike so many voting experiences where multiple candidates appear on the ballot sheet, this was unusually a simple Yes versus No, and for a proposition of great magnitude: Independence versus a stable union spanning 307 years.

The language of the campaign brand

Yes is such a positive word and one of the most powerful. ‘Yes we can’, ‘Yes please’. And although ‘yes’ supports risk-taking courage and an open-hearted approach to life it’s not all plain sailing. Psychological experiments have demonstrated that it is difficult to get people to say it because the connotations suggest more work. No, on the other hand, is so obviously negative ‘No you can’t’, ‘No way’, ‘No, not now, not ever.’ No used wisely, however, can demonstrate integrity and be a force against exploitation. I began to feel that ownership of ‘Yes’ in this context was such a boon. It could just as easily have been: ‘Yes for the Union’ versus ‘No for independence’. Not that this would make things any fairer!

The colour of the campaign brand

The blue of the yes campaign for ‘blue sky thinking’, long summer days and of course the national blue flag ingrained in the psyche of every red blooded Scot. Colour psychologists will tell you that the colour blue is one of trust and sincerity. It’s a colour that exhibits an inner confidence and loyalty and that you can rely on it to take control and do the right thing in difficult times. Then the hellfire blood red placards of the ‘No campaign’. Red, although the colour of passion, energy and power can be aggressive and domineering and too much red can make us agitated. The tribal uniforms of blue versus red can be seen in other places: Everton V Liverpool and City V United, Coca-Cola V Pepsi and Maserati V Ferrari.

So the votes were cast and the United Kingdom has emerged broadly unscathed and defiant and wider political engagement is surely possible, but perhaps only just. There is talk of further devolution and hasty concessions in the run up to the vote will have started a broader chain of political events. The experience will perhaps indicate the need for a UK wide vote on Europe. And one wonders if green ‘Yes’ placards promoting the pro union vote would have made a percentage difference. We may have to wait until we are all trusted to vote on the next big national issue to find out.

Graham Dodridge, Ideas Engine and silver.agency CEO

Graham is a brand man and photographer who in 1991 founded leading global indie agency: Gyro prior to founding silver.agency in 2006