'It's a wake-up call': how Covid-19 inspired a new public-health brand in eight weeks

'Better health', the new campaign from Public Health England, launches on TV this evening.

PHE: campaign is part of raft of measures proposed by government
PHE: campaign is part of raft of measures proposed by government

Public Health England is tackling adult obesity for the first time with the launch of a platform called "Better health".

The nine-month campaign – the UK’s biggest public-health launch since the debut of the Change4Life initiative in 2008 – was announced this morning (Monday) alongside a raft of controversial measures from the government aimed at tackling obesity, including a pre-9pm TV ad ban for foods high in fat, salt or sugar and a total online ad ban for this category.

"Better health" will make its TV debut this evening, first being shown during Channel 4 News at 7.24pm, followed by Coronation Street on ITV at 7.45pm, in a spot created by M&C Saatchi. Media planning is being handled by Wavemaker and buying by OmniGov.

The energetic spot features a diverse range of people – mostly in the "overweight" category (a BMI of 25-30) – taking part in exercise and food preparation, while a voiceover describes the benefits of weight loss for people who are overweight or obese, including in helping the body fight Covid-19.

While the initial messaging is around weight issues, "Better health" will go on to incorporate messaging around other adult health issues, including smoking and mental health, Sheila Mitchell, marketing director at PHE, told Campaign.

It will replace another platform, "One you", which Mitchell said had not received enough investment to effectively "cut through" as a brand, despite gaining "phenomenal traction" for its products.

Change4Life, which is aimed at families with children, will continue, although there is now no major media campaign planned this year. PHE previously said a campaign would run later in the year, rather than in its typical January slot.

Jeopardy and gusto

Mitchell confirmed that media coverage of today’s announcements – which have stressed prime minister Boris Johnson’s personal belief in the importance of weight loss, following his own severe case of Covid-19 – have been accurate.

"This is very much driven by the PM and his personal commitment and his personal belief," she said, but she added that tackling obesity had been on the organisation's agenda anyway.

The whole project – including the development of the brand, creation of campaign ideas and production of assets – was carried out in the past six to eight weeks, in compliance with safety guidelines for filming and other aspects.

Mitchell acknowledged that there were a number of risks with the campaign. "If we got the tone on this one wrong, it would be really quite damaging," she explained. "We had to make sure it wasn’t scaremongering, it wasn’t nanny-state-ism." She described the challenge for PHE and M&C Saatchi as this: "Can you do public health, land the jeopardy, but do it with some gusto?"

Another consideration was avoiding stigma – especially important when the social discourse around Covid-19 has been so fraught at times. "We had to be absolutely sure we weren’t blaming weight status on individuals," Mitchell said. PHE worked with organisations such as Obesity UK to ensure it was getting the tone right. 

A further challenge was that the campaign had a remit of reaching people in certain ethnic-minority communities that have above-average rates of obesity – including south Asians, black Africans and those from the Caribbean. 

As part of a media plan including print, radio, out-of-home and digital activity, the campaign is using targeted buys, such as in publications including Asian Times. To make the campaign as relevant and effective as possible, targeted executions will include content that aims to educate people on factors specific to their culture, such as the health impacts of ingredients such as ghee and palm oil, which are prominent in some cuisines.

A reset moment

Mitchell said the tragic and destabilising impact of the pandemic had given PHE’s work an increased sense of urgency. Its work on mental health had become "critically important", she said, because many people have dealt with loneliness, anxiety and grief. The widespread acceptance of the seriousness of the situation "gives us permission" to talk about relevant health issues, she added. 

"It’s almost incumbent on us to talk to people about some of the dangers of issues [like being overweight]," Mitchell explained. "It’s a wake-up call – a reset moment."

As well as promoting tools including the NHS Weight Loss Plan app, the campaign involves partnerships with weight-loss brands Slimming World, Get Slim and WW – all of which are providing special offers. 

On the future of the campaign, Mitchell acknowledged that behaviour change would take time. "We hope there is longevity," she added. 

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