Campaign Supplement on BMP DDB 1968-1998: Good causes powerful ads - BMP DDB has built up a reputation for effectively but sensitively promoting advertising’s trickier issues. Report by Helen Jones

The TUC, the GLC, the Labour Party, Amnesty International, War on Want and the National Union of Teachers sounds like a roll call of the left and the worthy, rather than a client list.

The TUC, the GLC, the Labour Party, Amnesty International, War on

Want and the National Union of Teachers sounds like a roll call of the

left and the worthy, rather than a client list.

But BMP DDB has always taken on social and political advertising for

unions, charities, the public sector and most famously, the Labour


Chris Powell, BMP’s chief executive, says: ’We’ve been fortunate to be

involved not only in a great many of these campaigns, but in many of the

great ones.’

He says BMP’s involvement with this type of work is not a

conscience-salving exercise but is carried out because the agency is

interested in ’applying the skills learned in the market to areas beyond

the commercial: to politics, social issues, public debate and


The agency’s first political campaign was for the TUC in 1971. ’The

Heath Government had introduced the Industrial Relations Bill limiting

the powers of trade unions. We heard that the TUC wanted to run a

campaign against it and there was some sort of pitch, which we won,’

Powell explains. A press ad called ’shut up and keep working’ was

created by Tim Delaney and Derek Dear and

focused on workers’ rights. A second ad, ’Agitators. Troublemakers.

Reds’, was intended to change public perceptions of shop stewards. While

the work won awards, Powell says the TUC was a difficult client. ’Every

word of copy had to be negotiated like a pay-bargaining deal. Geoff

Howard-Spink and I had to do it in shifts because we lacked the


Following the TUC work, BMP was approached by other organisations

including the Civil and Public Services Association, the Association of

Metropolitan Authorities and NALGO. ’Given the sheer number of social

and political campaigns we have done, what tends to happen is that

clients find us rather than us actively seeking this kind of work,’ Ross

Barr, joint managing director, says.

Of all the social and political work the agency has produced, Barr is

proudest of that done for the GLC in 1984. To counter the Thatcher

Government’s plan to abolish the GLC, BMP ran a campaign focusing on

local democracy and the damaging consequences of Whitehall attempting to

run London.

Powell recalls: ’Advertising was never going to stop the bill going

through the Commons because the Conservatives had such a big majority,

but it did change public opinion. In January 1984, opposition to

abolition was about 50 per cent and there were lots of ’don’t knows’. By

December opposition was 74 per cent.’

Barr adds: ’After the campaign, abolition was a lot more unpopular than

the Government expected. Although it didn’t change the situation - and a

lot of people may not remember the specifics of the campaign now - it

may have left some residual feeling that this city ought to have elected


The GLC campaign also changed the Left’s attitude to advertising, Powell

believes. ’They used to rather distrust advertising people. Then they

saw it wasn’t an exclusively Tory tool but that it could have an impact

for good. After the GLC work, we got a reputation for social advertising

and in1984 we did a campaign for Derbyshire County Council, which is the

work I’m proudest of.’

BMP created a TV, press and poster campaign to promote the council’s

services because the public, through their rates bills, could see the

costs of local government but not the benefits. ’The Labour leader of

the council could see a role for advertising,’ Powell says. ’The sheer

capital expenditure of local government is wasted if people don’t use

the services available so we promoted bus passes, welfare rights,

trading standards and even the local museum.’

Chris Hartley, a spokesman for Derbyshire County Council, says: ’It was

pretty radical for a local authority to use advertising in this way. BMP

came up with some great work which increased the take-up of services and

is still well remembered in the area.’

The agency also worked with a number of charities and pressure groups

such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society. David Harrison, a spokesman for

the society, says: ’The ’tear’ campaign, which BMP produced in the late

80s, changed the way medical charities advertised. It was a seminal

piece of work and did the job it set out to do, which was to build

awareness of MS as a condition.’

BMP has also created campaigns for the COI including fire and crime

prevention and Family Credit. Peter Buchanan, the COI’s marketing

communications director, says: ’Throughout the 80s and 90s, BMP was one

of the top two or three agencies involved in government work.’ He says

the agency is very strong in terms of planning and ’unusually for a very

large agency, we have a lot of close attention from very senior


COI work is not always simple. ’Family Credit was all about persuading

people to come forward and take the benefits to which they were

entitled,’ Barr says. ’You’d think giving money away would be easy but

it’s not.

People are very suspicious’ Buchanan says: ’BMP has tackled some of the

trickier issues in terms of advertising, but has always done it in a

sensitive and effective way.’

Charles Gallichan, head of advertising for the Health Education

Authority, says sensitivity was also crucial to BMP’s Aids awareness

work. ’There were two campaigns: one to educate the public about modes

of transmission and the other to get people thinking in terms of buying

condoms, carrying them and negotiating their usage. The use of humour in

the ’Mrs Dawson’ and ’Geronimo’ campaigns normalised condom usage and

was very effective,’ he says.

The relationship between BMP and Labour goes back to 1972, when the

agency started work on planning for the 1974 election. In 1985, the

agency was approached by Peter Mandelson to lead the Shadow

Communications Agency, a group of volunteers centred on BMP. ’It was

exhilarating to be part of the 1987 election,’ Powell says, ’showing

that Labour could be as professional in this arena as the Tories,

although, of course, the result was a bitter disappointment.’

He continues: ’By the ’97 election, what had been voluntary became a

more regular client-agency relationship and all those who worked on the

campaign had the pleasure of sharing in that fantastic victory.’

Barr says the agency’s involvement in political and social advertising

has not affected its relationship with other, more mainstream clients

although he adds: ’We’ve had some funny comments.’

Powell adds that despite BMP’s reputation for this type of work, ’it is

a tiny part of our business. We are overwhelmingly a commercial agency

and the social and political stuff accounts for 0.1something per cent of

the work we do.’


MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS In the late 80s, BMP’s work for the MS Society raised

awareness of the condition and changed the way medical charities


FIRE PREVENTION This 1984 film for the GLC showed how shutting doors

could help prevent fires spreading.

FAMILY CREDIT This campaign for the COI persuaded families on low

incomes to come forward and claim the benefits to which they were


DERBYSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL BMP’s press, poster and TV work promoted

services to rate-payers and increased uptake.

LABOUR The hard-hitting ’porky pies’ ads (above) lampooned the Tories,

while in 1997 bulldog Fritz was used as a metaphor to show how New

Labour would re-energise Britain.

TUC BMP’s first political campaign, from 1971, opposed the Industrial

Relations Bill by highlighting workers’ rights.

CRIME PREVENTION This commercial from 1981 used thieving magpies to

symbolise how careless members of public made it easy for burglars to

break in.

AIDS The humour in these 1988 HEA ads encouraged the public to practise

safer sex by normalising the use of condoms.

GLC The campaign, which focused on local democracy, showed the Left that

advertising was not exclusively a Tory tool.

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