Why content can help COI get its messageacross

I don't want to rain on United London's parade, but I think COI may have made a mistake in hiring an advertising agency to convince youngsters that they should stop their binge-drinking.

Years back, Campaign did a feature called "briefs from hell" and most of them came from COI. Not because there's anything wrong with the way COI briefs its agencies, but rather because so many of its briefs are for virtually impossible causes.

How do you persuade young teens not to have sex? How do you get smokers to overcome their addiction? How do you get young people not to drink so much?

The answer has traditionally tended to focus on shock tactics. But the truth is that even the most frightening messages will fall on deaf ears when young people, in particular, are surrounded by their peer group, flirting, guzzling booze and generally throwing all caution to the wind.

But there has been an evolution in the collective British psyche that could help COI with its communications duties - and that is a preoccupation with all things healthy. Jamie's School Dinners hit a nerve that has since proven very receptive to health messages. The programme wasn't backed by COI, or Sainsbury's for that matter, but it was nevertheless a very effective communicator of a health message (as well as one for Sainsbury's product range).

Celebrity Fit Farm, Turn Back Your Body Clock, You Are What You Eat ... there are any number of healthy TV programmes attracting significant audiences.

The programmes have very direct messages, there's no fluff. In fact, they adopt the preachy tone that a COI ad could never get away with; they inform viewers that they are responsible for their own health.

So while the great British public is so fascinated with its mortality, the time seems right for COI to divert some budget away from traditional advertising and further investigate content opportunities using engaging programming.

I say further, as I'm sure COI has become involved to a limited extent in some programming. It has been known to supply information that can make the plot of a soap opera more compelling (something that occurred when EastEnders' Mark Fowler became HIV positive in the 80s). Perhaps the makers of Shameless could be persuaded to include a plotline about the dangers of genital warts. This route can be very effective because it is characters with whom viewers have a relationship who communicate the message - it's along the lines of a friend giving advice.

So back to binge-drinking. I don't doubt United's ability to come up with a compelling strategy and creative treatment that will help reduce the amount of vomit on our pavements of a Saturday morning. However, TV and print advertising might not be the right vehicles to get the agency's message across.

If the signs are right, this year's Cannes festival should make us all proud to be British. Fallon's "balls" spot for Sony is a front-runner, as is Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's "noitulove" for Guinness.

The Americans are tipping "noitulove" for Grand Prix glory and well they might. It's a friendly film, on brand, fantastically posted, has a great soundtrack and doesn't require anyone on the Cannes jury to be fluent in English.

Sony, meanwhile, is simply mesmeric. It has got cut-through levels to die for - people stop what they're doing and watch it. It's beautifully simple and utterly relevant to Sony's brand and the Bravia's offering.

Nevertheless, it's not a jury pleaser. At the British Television Advertising Awards it was beaten by Honda's "impossible dream" - one juror told me this was because "balls" wasn't "mould-breaking enough". At D&AD, meanwhile, it got a yellow Pencil, not the elusive black.

Good luck to both of them, but my vote's with Sony.

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.


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