Close-Up: Live Issue/Public Issue Campaigns - Agencies feel highs and lows of COI health tasks/Measuring success in COI campaigns can be bad for you, Matthew Cowen says

It can leave you feeling abandoned, self-doubting and confused.

It can leave you feeling abandoned, self-doubting and confused.

Worse still, it leaves your community torturing themselves with the

thought that they are somehow implicated in your fall. There’s no doubt

about it. Working for the Government can screw you up.

At least that seemed to be the experience of the folks at Duckworth Finn

Grubb Waters last week, when the agency behind the Department of

Health’s ’know the score’ anti-drugs campaign found itself dropped from

the account amid a national rise in controlled-substance offences.

For the ad industry, this was more than just another Central Office of

Information account loss. By awarding Duckworth Finn’s campaign its 1998

Effectiveness Grand Prix, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising

had made the point that public issue advertising could be demonstrated

to work, and chose ’know the score’ as the campaign to prove it.

Was the IPA wrong? Were the judges too hasty to accept the claim of Gary

Duckworth, the agency’s chairman, to have saved millions of pounds from

the cost of addict treatment and lost working days? After all, if the

campaign worked, why is the account now in the hands of St Luke’s

(Campaign last week)?

To borrow from Duckworth Finn’s creatives, when it comes to public issue

campaigns, agencies should already know the score. Chris Powell, the

chairman of BMP DDB, which produced COI anti-Aids campaigns in the 80s,

says: ’It’s very much a trapeze job. It’s high-profile work but easy to

make a fool of yourself. It’s difficult to be effective and you can

easily make the situation worse.’

That was the concern initially raised by Duckworth Finn’s ads detailing

the effects of specific drugs. Not only did the campaign risk

advertising speed, ecstasy and LSD through mentioning them by name, it

also provided helpful hints to users such as ’drink lots of water’.

The brief was to present potential drug users with the facts and allow

them to make up their own mind. The risk was that those potential users

might take a good look at the facts and just say yes.

With such concerns apparent from the start, and drug statistics now on

the rise, it might seem that the IPA’s embrace of the campaign was just

plain wrong. But the industry shouldn’t be too hard on itself, Powell

points out. ’I don’t think these campaigns can ever work on their own,’

he says. ’They have to be part of a wider mix.’

So the IPA’s error could be in attempting to judge the effectiveness of

a public issue campaign in the first place. After all, an anti-drugs (or

anti-drink driving or anti-smoking) campaign is only as effective as the

brief specified by the department and the consistency of funding and

support it receives from the Government.

At the time, Duckworth Finn’s ads were appearing in lifestyle magazines

and on posters around the country; the drugs czar, Keith Hellawell, and

the cabinet minister, Mo Mowlam, were hinting that cannabis should be

de-criminalised and the Police Federation was preparing to suggest that

ecstasy should no longer be considered a Class A drug.

’Know the score’ seemed to be in tune with the prevailing wisdom that

some drugs were less dangerous than others and so shouldn’t be demonised

in the same way. Over the past few weeks that wisdom has changed, with

Tony Blair and William Hague jousting to take the hardest line on the

drug problem.

Duckworth Finn isn’t the first agency to lose out over politicians’

trigger-happy attitude towards change. D’Arcy lost the Department of

Transport’s prestigious anti-drink drive account, for which it had

produced award-winning ads such as ’Dave’ and ’summertime’, after the

proportion of positive breath tests rose by 4 percent over Christmas


During D’Arcy’s time on the account, the number of drink-related deaths

and injuries on the road had fallen from 4,850 in 1990 to 3,470 in 1997.

One statistical shift in the wrong direction, though, and it was time to

call in Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

Tony Allsworth, head of publicity at the Department of Transport, argues

that a little competition is perfectly justified and perfectly


’That change was simply a question of looking at what we could do for

the next year and holding a competition between two agencies to see how

we could go forward,’ he says of the drink-drive account switch.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a view that’s shared by the St Luke’s joint

creative director, Kate Stanners, now preparing to get stuck into the

successor to ’know the score’.

’It’s unfashionable to say it, but we find the Government to be one of

our best clients,’ she says. ’We’ve done campaigns for the New Deal and

the Working Family Tax Credit and we always find we’re dealing directly

with ministers who really know their stuff.’

Stanners also believes that the insecurity of public issue accounts

comes with the territory. ’You’re dealing with behaviour and social

trends that change constantly,’ she says. ’You can’t hang on to the same

approach to the subject. It’s not like selling Heinz ketchup.’

In fact, for Stanners competition is a natural result of success in

public issue advertising. ’If your work is successful, then people’s

behaviour will have moved on and the work will have to change.’

So perhaps the industry has to accept that high-profile COI accounts

will never rest securely in the hands of one agency or another. What’s

certain is that there will always be a large pool of talent competing

for the work.

’Our people find it fascinating,’ Powell says. ’Most of the causes we

work for in advertising are fairly trivial. Here you have the chance to

use your skills for something that’s not.’

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus