Looking back through previous essays, I feel honoured to be the first public-sector marketer nominated to put pen to paper.
Those who have gone before me have picked some thought-provoking themes. In 2011, Amanda Mackenzie challenged us all to become better citizens of the world. In 2012, Gavin Patterson urged the marketing industry to fulfil its promise by embracing the digital economy. In 2013, Roisin Donnelly talked about how a focus on insight, innovation and integrity might help the industry enjoy another great year amid adversity.
Re-reading these essays prompted me to reflect on how their themes relate to my world. My challenge is about helping people make better choices amid epidemics of lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, obesity and dementia. In fact, I can see these themes coming together in 2014. Industry, recognising that being a good corporate citizen makes good commercial sense, will work in partnership with government to harness digital and use its insight, innovation and integrity to help individuals make healthier choices.
Every day, we all make choices: choose ready meals because we’re too busy to cook from scratch; choose to pop to the shops in the car instead of walking; or choose to give up smoking next year. These lifestyle choices represent a great cost not only to the NHS but also to the economy as a whole when you consider the impact on productivity of lost working days.
Every year, our new year campaigns prompt individuals to make healthier choices. This year is no exception: Change4Life is challenging people to make a Smart Swap and Smokefree is prompting smokers to quit now with graphic visualisation of the immediate harm caused by each drag on the cigarette.
In this context, I believe that the Government and industry have a shared responsibility to work together to help individuals make healthier choices 24/7, 365 days a year.
Our audiences are often less receptive to messages conveyed by government departments because, despite our best efforts, they can come across as "finger-wagging" and "nannying". However, when these communications come from brands they know and love, in partnership with government departments, local authorities and charities, they are usually much better-received.
Working in this way benefits all parties and contributes to our collective bottom line. For companies that deal with government departments on a regular basis, working together to achieve a common goal can provide a welcome additional strand to the relationship.
Collective force for good
In joining with us, industry can be a powerful force for good not only in joint communications but also in terms of its employees. Increasingly, we see companies embedding health and well-being into their internal culture, and there are signs that there’s a ripple effect through to their employees’ families.
Industry is recognising that doing the right thing makes good commercial sense, with reduced absenteeism through ill health and increased productivity through improved fitness.
This is a time of great change in the way people access media. The digital age has transformed whole industries. New technologies are enabling people to drive change, build new networks, create content and share ideas as never before.
Simultaneously, with the explosion in epidemics of non-infectious and eminently preventable diseases, we are being forced to innovate and develop new ways of engaging the public at scale. Technology has a transformational role to play.
2013 was a big year for consumer health technology. According to the mobile technology consultancy Research2Guidance, there are now close to 100,000 mobile health apps, with the top ten generating more than four million free downloads every day. This year, I am sure, will also see increased adoption of wear-able technology such as the Nike+ FuelBand and Fitbit.
Public Health England has developed a number of successful apps and piloted the use of wearable tech to incentivise and track physical activity levels in children, but I don’t mind admitting that we are struggling with some big questions.
There is a lot of data out there on our behaviours, but how do we bring it together to help people make positive changes? How do we make the technology accessible to all? How can we use the data and the technology to incentivise and reward good health at scale?
There is a lot of data out there on our behaviours, but how do we bring it together to help people make positive changes?
The potential for technology to help us achieve our health goals is within reach, but PHE needs to partner with leaders from industry to make sure we are using technology effectively and imaginatively.
We must leverage the funding we have to make the biggest impact.
A win-win for the long term
Brands that partner with the Government in health and well-being campaigns can use this as an added-value brand activation component, which is complementary to their brand-building activity.
In the case of Change4Life, our partnership agency 23red works with some 200 organisations to capitalise on the TV-led campaign by M&C Saatchi and activate it at grass-roots level. Change4Life encourages people to adopt behaviours that prevent excess weight gain and long-term health conditions.
We’ve learned that people respond better when supported in making small changes to their diet and behaviours. This strategy can only be delivered by working with trusted commercial partners drawn from the retail, food manufacturing and fitness sectors.
For example, to support our current Smart Swaps campaign, we have enlisted Asda, The Co-operative, Aldi and a range of food manufacturers to contribute recipes, incentives and money-off swaps to healthier options. More than 14 million "smart swappers" and recipe leaflets will be distributed via our own and partner channels. The campaign will help maintain the relevance and profile of Change4Life and change behaviours and attitudes of consumers around key messages. Research conducted by ourselves and our industry partners shows that, by supporting Change4Life campaigns such as Smart Swaps, brands benefit in terms of the positive impact on their customers, their brand reputation and their bottom line.
I would like to thank those partners that have already stepped up to the plate and supported our campaigns with award-winning work. We currently have more than 200 relationships on Change4Life, but we need to deepen the ones we have and develop new ones, including alliances that help us harness the power of digital. We’re beginning to get results on obesity with positive signs among young children, but now we’re rising to the challenge of dementia at the other end of the age spectrum.
Our goal in 2014 is to help educate more than a million people to be able to recognise and respond to those living with dementia. Working with the Alzheimer’s Society and the Prime Minister’s Office, we are building a movement to create a dementia-friendly society. As part of this, we are developing online training resources that make it easy for customer-facing staff to learn about dementia. Now, we need industry to join our movement. This initiative will help industry improve customer service and provide dementia sufferers a more sympathetic environment.
I’m a great admirer of the Pampers promotion, whereby one vaccine dose is donated per pack purchased. It’s truly inspiring to read that, since 2006, Pampers’ funding has helped to protect 100 million women and their babies against maternal and neonatal tetanus and has helped eliminate MNT in eight countries. And I’m sure that the promotion has boosted sales and brand reputation.
Inspired by this example, I would love our PHE team to develop similarly ambitious programmes that can make real inroads into areas such as dementia.
Would you like to make a New Year’s resolution to join us on this great mission?
Sheila Mitchell is the marketing director at Public Health England