Close-Up: The art of making an ad on a shoestring budget

Three agencies with campaigns on the IPA Effectiveness shortlist talk about creating effective advertising on a small budget.

- British Heart Foundation 'watch your own heart attack' by Grey London

Neil Hourston, chief strategy officer, Grey London

The lowdown

The British Heart Foundation's "watch your own heart attack" campaign aimed to reduce patient delays in calling 999 by raising awareness of the full range of symptoms.

The creative strategy was to give the nation a dry-run heart attack in the form of a two-minute film shown on TV. But media budgets only allowed us to air the film once. The solution was to advertise the spot time through supporting media, thereby making the single airing unmissable.

Six million saw it and nearly all remembered it. It raised and sustained awareness of a wide range of symptoms, and encouraged discussion and online investigation. This contributed to a two-and-a-half-minute reduction in patient-delay. It's estimated that 70 people survived because they called quicker, having seen the film. In economic terms, the campaign is likely to have saved the economy £1.83 million (from a spend of £1.35 million). And based on cost per life saved, the campaign was an "efficient" intervention by the Government's own clinical standards.

How do you make an effective campaign on a small budget?

Small budgets have more fun. You're probably working on your big client's small brand or your small client's big ambition. Either way, the rules feel a little less tight and there's more of an appetite to experiment. Digital is probably at the heart of the conversation (if it's not, it almost certainly should be) and this gives you an opportunity to create more value in your budget. Ask yourself what does your audience really need? Or really want? If you answer this properly, you'll soon be playing about with little product or service ideas that are either so useful or so entertaining that you can start to see your audience pushing your ideas round their social circles.

Know what you're doing and why - and offer as many references as you can find to reassure the client that not only will it work, it will work better than a "conventional" solution. The IPA's new bank of case studies might be a good place to start.

- Transport for London 'awareness test' by WCRS

Giselle Okin, deputy head of planning, WCRS

The lowdown

In 2007, 21 cyclists in London died because they weren't seen. With just £600,000, our message was seen by more than 13 million people. Cycling fatalities in London dropped by a third.

It was challenging; we didn't want to discourage cyclists from riding or apportion blame for accidents. Drivers thought they were already looking for cyclists and cyclists thought they were sufficiently visible.

We created a test, based on the science of "attention blindness", which proved how easy it could be to look, but not see cyclists.

After exposure to this test, people immediately wanted to tell others about it so we facilitated this by seeding our campaign online among London cycling and motoring opinion-formers. Even if we modestly claim that our campaign influenced people in just 20 per cent of casualties, the campaign paid for itself more than three times over in administrative costs.

How do you make an effective campaign on a small budget?

A small budget is one of the greatest opportunities for an agency to be creative. It immediately signals the need to do things differently.

The smaller the budget, the bigger the challenge. Rules and conventions go out of the window, especially with regard to media choices. With a relatively broad audience for cycling safety, we had to limit our use of paid-for broadcast media to fuel the spread of our message online via free media.

Our Brylcreem campaign is another clever example of a limited budget. Here, the real advertising took place before the ad was made, with an online recruitment campaign for the star of the ad. This engaged the core audience over a prolonged period.

With cycling safety, instead of starting with a communication problem we started with a behavioural one. We had to show people the psychological factors that stop us spotting cyclists to persuade them to change their behaviour.

Once you get to a place like this, it's not difficult to create an effective campaign.

There are plenty of small-budget, big ideas out there. What's often lacking is the budget to prove their effectiveness. The costs of measurement tend not to be pro-rata to the size of the audience.

You pay for a robust sample. If small budgets necessitate more creative solutions, we have to get more creative in how we measure small budget campaigns.

- Morrisons 'let's grow' by Mediaedge:cia

Tove Okunniwa, managing partner, MEC Access

The lowdown

Morrisons is the most vertically integrated of all the big four supermarkets so can talk credibly about food sourcing. Consumers also perceive Morrisons as hailing from Yorkshire farming stock, making the link to growing food even stronger.

The insight that fuelled the creation of "let's grow", then, is that to really appreciate fresh food, you have to get your hands dirty.

The idea is simple: mum shops in Morrisons and receives "let's grow" vouchers for her children to take to school. These are redeemed on gardening equipment, seeds and tools, which are delivered in time for spring planting.

The scheme has helped to integrate growing into the national curriculum and has inspired children to have fun and get their hands dirty by learning to grow fresh produce.

In its first year, 85 per cent of primary schools have registered, 39 million vouchers have been redeemed and "let's grow" has generated a sales return on marketing investment of £21.57 per £1 invested.

How do you make an effective campaign on a small budget?

Planning on a small budget focuses the mind and forces you to make sure that every element of the campaign is working as hard as possible.

So what do you need? A clear goal and a simple idea. Not always as easy as it sounds.

One part consumer insight married with a truth about the brand that is completely credible mixed together with a hook (the latest trend, a movement, a cause) to inspire the imagination.

To make the most of what you have at your disposal, collaboration and integration are your best friends. Involve all the key players and give them a sense of ownership and you'll be amazed by the quantity of opportunities to integrate the new idea into existing activity that present themselves.

Being flexible and acting swiftly to make the most of these opportunities will be the difference between an idea taking flight or dying on the vine.

Keep refreshing - but not too soon. You'll be bored of the idea long before the consumers have tired of it, but keeping it fresh and revitalised will ensure a longevity that will make that scarce budget stretch way beyond what you imagined at inception.

Nothing breathes life into an idea more than success. Agree what that success looks like upfront. Measure the performance and celebrate every milestone reached with real conviction.