Whether or not public issue advertising can produce significant
changes in people’s behaviour will always be open to debate because
results are hard to quantify.
How much is the steady decline in drinking and driving because of
regular hard-hitting TV campaigns or more effective policing? And who
can say, unequivocally, that the Government’s anti-drugs push - soon to
be spearheaded by St Luke’s rather than Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters -
has saved taxpayers the millions of pounds that have been claimed?
Indeed, it might be argued that diverting the ad budget into increasing
the number of drug counselling centres would have been equally, if not
Soon though, the Government and the ad industry may move closer to
answering this question. Over the next three years, the Department of
Health will be backing its anti-smoking campaign to the tune of pounds
50 million, most of which is going into above-the-line advertising.
Never before has a campaign aimed at producing a massive swing in social
behaviour been given such sustained support. Central Office of
Information agencies know to their cost what a fickle client the
Government can be. Public service advertising is notoriously vulnerable
to changes of ministerial whim.
What’s more, any new official initiative invariably precipitates an
agency review irrespective of the incumbent agency’s performance.
Duckworth Finn may feel justifiably aggrieved to have fallen victim to
what is an occupational hazard when working for the COI.
A lot rides on the anti-smoking campaign. Not so much in determining the
future of public information advertising, but in whether other
initiatives could benefit from a massive amount of extra support.
It is already accepted that even if the millions of pounds being spent
persuading people to quit smoking precipitates only a small percentage
change, the saving to the NHS will more than outweigh the adspend.
St Luke’s faces a mighty challenge. How can drugs be demonised without
making the habit seem more attractive? How can the message be made
relevant to teenagers confronting the menace daily? For everybody’s
sake, let’s hope it succeeds.