Public Health England: Awkward Conversations

Public Health England: Awkward Conversations

Launch date: 1 October 2012    


Public Health England set us two challenges: prevent teenagers from deciding to smoke or take drugs, and delay their decisions to drink alcohol and have sex until they’re legally old enough. We focused on getting 11 to 16-year-olds talking, as evidence suggests at this stage they’ve yet to face these decisions and discussing these issues early helps influence behaviour in later life.

Strategy and details of activity

Previous campaign activity showed that information alone doesn’t change behaviour. Academic research indicated the best way to stop these behaviours would be to start conversations. Conversations provide a way for teenagers to imagine themselves in new and challenging situations and help build self-confidence and esteem.

Our idea. Forget parents, forget friends. Find people teenagers trust and get them to share their stories of these awkward conversations. Our idea took us to ChannelFlip, who represent the UK’s most popular teenage YouTube bloggers, some with up to 944,000 passionate subscribers. We selected 10 bloggers and commissioned them to create videos about awkward conversations.

Our primary objective was to encourage viewers to comment on the stories of Awkward Conversations and to share their own.

The bloggers also presented their videos as part of a bigger conversation: linking to other videos in the project to invite viewers to watch more than one. We used a moderator to read all comments in real-time and categorise each one in a traffic-light system, according to sentiment. We also replied to comments where necessary.


Our ten videos were watched over five million times (5,537,662 views) and all videos featured in the top 50 most liked videos on YouTube on the day of upload.

We beat the most cost-effective Department of Health campaign on a cost-per-action basis, but most importantly, we initiated conversations and increased self-confidence in thousands of teens, soliciting 54,602 comments.

Business outcome

We initiated conversations and increased self-confidence in thousands of teens

  • Example comments: "I find it so reassuring that someone my age doesn’t drink either! There’s so much pressure around to drink and to get drunk, I don’t see what’s so appealing about it" (mangogirl91094)
  • We outperformed all previous ChannelFlip projects with commercial and not-for-profit clients (measured by views and comments per video).
  • Our ultimate success was to start a conversation that’s continuing without needing our involvement:
  • There were 19 unprompted video responses (attracting 4,500 views in their own right)
  • One blogger (SprinkleofGlitter) was inspired to keep the dialogue going: "My video was so well received I’m planning a series of videos on similar topics"

Sheila Mitchell (Marketing Director, Department of Health): "The Awkward Conversations Project is one of our key innovation projects this year – we have been delighted by the results. By using a very single-minded proposition in the work and credible YouTube producers we have created a huge number of conversations amongst our target age group in a very cost-effective way."

You have

[DAYS_LEFT] Days left

of your free trial

Subscribe now

Subscribe to Campaign from just £57 per quarter

Includes the weekly magazine and quarterly Campaign IQ, plus unrestricted online access.


Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

1 Martin Freeman fronts Vodafone UK's first integrated ad campaign by Ogilvy

The Hobbit and Sherlock star Martin Freeman plays a rude wedding guest in Vodafone's first integrated ad campaign since the telecoms giant moved its UK ad business to Ogilvy & Mather earlier this year.

Case study: How 'This girl can' got 1.6 million women exercising

1 Case study: How 'This girl can' got 1.6 million women exercising

"This girl can" was based on a powerful insight: that the fear of judgement by others is the primary barrier holding women back from participating in sport.

Just published