It can leave you feeling abandoned, self-doubting and confused.
Worse still, it leaves your community torturing themselves with the
thought that they are somehow implicated in your fall. There’s no doubt
about it. Working for the Government can screw you up.
At least that seemed to be the experience of the folks at Duckworth Finn
Grubb Waters last week, when the agency behind the Department of
Health’s ’know the score’ anti-drugs campaign found itself dropped from
the account amid a national rise in controlled-substance offences.
For the ad industry, this was more than just another Central Office of
Information account loss. By awarding Duckworth Finn’s campaign its 1998
Effectiveness Grand Prix, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising
had made the point that public issue advertising could be demonstrated
to work, and chose ’know the score’ as the campaign to prove it.
Was the IPA wrong? Were the judges too hasty to accept the claim of Gary
Duckworth, the agency’s chairman, to have saved millions of pounds from
the cost of addict treatment and lost working days? After all, if the
campaign worked, why is the account now in the hands of St Luke’s
(Campaign last week)?
To borrow from Duckworth Finn’s creatives, when it comes to public issue
campaigns, agencies should already know the score. Chris Powell, the
chairman of BMP DDB, which produced COI anti-Aids campaigns in the 80s,
says: ’It’s very much a trapeze job. It’s high-profile work but easy to
make a fool of yourself. It’s difficult to be effective and you can
easily make the situation worse.’
That was the concern initially raised by Duckworth Finn’s ads detailing
the effects of specific drugs. Not only did the campaign risk
advertising speed, ecstasy and LSD through mentioning them by name, it
also provided helpful hints to users such as ’drink lots of water’.
The brief was to present potential drug users with the facts and allow
them to make up their own mind. The risk was that those potential users
might take a good look at the facts and just say yes.
With such concerns apparent from the start, and drug statistics now on
the rise, it might seem that the IPA’s embrace of the campaign was just
plain wrong. But the industry shouldn’t be too hard on itself, Powell
points out. ’I don’t think these campaigns can ever work on their own,’
he says. ’They have to be part of a wider mix.’
So the IPA’s error could be in attempting to judge the effectiveness of
a public issue campaign in the first place. After all, an anti-drugs (or
anti-drink driving or anti-smoking) campaign is only as effective as the
brief specified by the department and the consistency of funding and
support it receives from the Government.
At the time, Duckworth Finn’s ads were appearing in lifestyle magazines
and on posters around the country; the drugs czar, Keith Hellawell, and
the cabinet minister, Mo Mowlam, were hinting that cannabis should be
de-criminalised and the Police Federation was preparing to suggest that
ecstasy should no longer be considered a Class A drug.
’Know the score’ seemed to be in tune with the prevailing wisdom that
some drugs were less dangerous than others and so shouldn’t be demonised
in the same way. Over the past few weeks that wisdom has changed, with
Tony Blair and William Hague jousting to take the hardest line on the
Duckworth Finn isn’t the first agency to lose out over politicians’
trigger-happy attitude towards change. D’Arcy lost the Department of
Transport’s prestigious anti-drink drive account, for which it had
produced award-winning ads such as ’Dave’ and ’summertime’, after the
proportion of positive breath tests rose by 4 percent over Christmas
During D’Arcy’s time on the account, the number of drink-related deaths
and injuries on the road had fallen from 4,850 in 1990 to 3,470 in 1997.
One statistical shift in the wrong direction, though, and it was time to
call in Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.
Tony Allsworth, head of publicity at the Department of Transport, argues
that a little competition is perfectly justified and perfectly
’That change was simply a question of looking at what we could do for
the next year and holding a competition between two agencies to see how
we could go forward,’ he says of the drink-drive account switch.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a view that’s shared by the St Luke’s joint
creative director, Kate Stanners, now preparing to get stuck into the
successor to ’know the score’.
’It’s unfashionable to say it, but we find the Government to be one of
our best clients,’ she says. ’We’ve done campaigns for the New Deal and
the Working Family Tax Credit and we always find we’re dealing directly
with ministers who really know their stuff.’
Stanners also believes that the insecurity of public issue accounts
comes with the territory. ’You’re dealing with behaviour and social
trends that change constantly,’ she says. ’You can’t hang on to the same
approach to the subject. It’s not like selling Heinz ketchup.’
In fact, for Stanners competition is a natural result of success in
public issue advertising. ’If your work is successful, then people’s
behaviour will have moved on and the work will have to change.’
So perhaps the industry has to accept that high-profile COI accounts
will never rest securely in the hands of one agency or another. What’s
certain is that there will always be a large pool of talent competing
for the work.
’Our people find it fascinating,’ Powell says. ’Most of the causes we
work for in advertising are fairly trivial. Here you have the chance to
use your skills for something that’s not.’