Media: Strategy Analysis - DfES competition pushes good diet

Client: Department for Education and Skills
Brief: Promote the benefits of healthy eating to children in an engaging
and entertaining way
Target audience: 11- to 18-year-olds
Budget: Undisclosed

AGENCIES
Media and strategy: Viacom Brand Solutions
PR: August One Communications
Microsite: Cimex Media

STRATEGY

The Department for Education and Skills has long-term plans to address the rising concern with British children's eating habits and the effect of TV advertising. DfES approached Viacom Brand Solutions (the multichannel sales house for the MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon and Paramount Comedy TV channels) to help tackle the situation. It recognised VBS's expertise engaging with children could be maximised to create a campaign that needed to resonate with children of pre-school age.

DfES and VBS formed a strategic partnership. DfES wanted to find a way to encourage children to live a more healthy lifestyle, while VBS wanted to use its youth brands to help promote a positive message to children.

The campaign also chimed well with Nickelodeon's ongoing "Nicktrition" campaign, a series of events and programming strands designed to get children active.

As part of its in-house creative offering, VBS devised a competition that would challenge British teenagers to design an animated TV ad, promoting the benefits of healthy eating. The winner's ad would then be produced and aired on the Nickelodeon and MTV channels. The winner would also receive an all-expenses paid trip to the Nickelodeon studios to see their creation being brought to life.

EXECUTION

- TV: The competition was branded "Animunch" and launched across Nickelodeon on 28 January 2006.

- Online: This was backed up by a microsite (www.need2 know.co.uk). Teachers were also encouraged to tell their students about it through www.teachernet.gov.uk, the DfES resource to support the education profession.

- PR: August One Communications was hired to publicise the competition and recruited celebrities, including Steven Gerrard, Alex Curran and Paula Radcliffe. PR activity was highly targeted in order to communicate with the audience and increase traffic to the need2know website.

RESULTS

More than 3,000 entries were received, but it was 13-year-old Chris Harrison's idea, inspired by his pet gerbil, Kenny, that saw him become one of the youngest TV directors ever.

His comic strip, called Gerbil Tails, showed Kenny waiting for a delicious and nutritious lunch, only to be given chips by his owner. In a fit of rage, he breaks out of his cage. Kenny goes on to explain why healthy eating is the reason he is such a fit and active gerbil.

Gerbil Tails was screened on Nickelodeon for two weeks from 8 May. PR coverage secured included the Sunday Express, First News, Toxic, Funday Times Online, Reach for the Sky and local press. The microsite received an increase in hits from 4,000 a week to 17,000 a week over the course of the campaign.

THE VERDICT - Kate Rowlinson head of communications strategy, Carat

Show me a teenager who doesn't want to be on TV or at least make something that gets on TV and I'll show you an empty Big Brother house. Couple that with the explosion of teenage creative self-expression on the internet of late and you really start to see the power and resonance in this solution.

Sometimes, it just seems so appropriate to involve a target audience directly in the creation of advertising (and I don't just mean some creative testing groups). There have been meetings I have been in when people have said: "Wouldn't it be great if we could get real people involved in actually making this communication?" Viacom made it happen.

It is also nice that Viacom encouraged older children to create messaging for younger ones; they are, after all, much closer in age and experience than any advertising professional.

And, of course, Viacom's approach is a really smart way of overcoming a key obstacle - preachy government ads telling you not to do stuff can be annoying. Get young people involved and they might pay attention and care.

There is so much that is good about this solution. It is by children for children, it exploits and builds on an existing and trusted property in Nicktrition, it allows teenagers' creativity to flourish, engages them directly in a grown-up issue and it gives one 13-year-old boy a trip of a lifetime and loads of respect from his mates.

A quick Google search on "animunch" shows it had lots of PR value, too, with teachers around the country championing this initiative in their classrooms. And then there is the amplification potential. I am sure there were loads of ideas put forward around how Gerbil Tails could be extended - a series of regular cartoon strips across TV, print or online maybe?

Chris Harrison may well be on the payroll, cranking out the sequel as we speak. Interactive storylines by other children? Kenny the gerbil's blog?

It might have been nice to see an open-source selection of other competition entries on the need2know website, allowing other teens to have a whiff of fame rather than the full monty and also creating a hotbed of ideas.

All in all, though, a cute strategy with loads of potential.

SCORE: 4 out of 5.

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