21
Jul
10

The future of public advertising in Cameron’s ‘Big Society’

The Central Office of Information’s budget has long been a topic of debate; so much so that we featured the government’s “centre of marketing excellence” in a special general election blog. Weeks later, the shape of the coalition government’s plans for the COI are becoming apparent. What will the future hold for public advertising in the UK?

The government’s austerity budget has already found its high profile advertising victim: The ‘Change4Life’ campaign, led by M&C Saatchi, will have its £75 million advertising budget come. The move comes amongst general plans to slash public marketing budgets by 50%.
The coalition government has called upon food and drink companies, and the wider commercial sector, to provide a voice for the campaign in their own advertising and marketing. This is a new vision to tackle the public health issue, and the move promises interesting results – not least the shouldering of the public health burden by commercial brands.

The Change4Life campaign has been backed by various commercial partners in the past – but now charities and local authorities have been invited to fill the funding gap created by the national deficit. The government’s promotion of healthy lifestyles is thus to be led by businesses.

A natural and valid question is whether brands that sell ‘unhealthy’ products leading a public health campaign is really the optimal solution. Will they support real efforts to encourage lifestyle-changing habits that encourage more exercise and healthier diets? The answer lies in a new form of corporate social responsibility – which is certainly preferable to increased state regulation. Advertisements coming from brands are more likely to be heard by consumers, as those coming from government are often seen as too prescriptive and not-engaging enough.

There is a benefit for brands: If the government is relying on companies to fund public health advertising, it is unlikely that it will introduce regulations against the advertising of food high in fat, salt and sugar on television. Nevertheless, we like the idea of a collaborative effort between the public and private sector. Lifestyle and healthy eating advice is more relevant when coming from a brand that we have already bought-in to.

A further cost-cutting move by the government proves their media-savvy. Like many other brands, Change4Life will mainly be promoted through social media rather than traditional advertising campaigns. Prime Minister David Cameron has already met with Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to discuss ways that the social networking site can be used to engage citizens on policy issues. The recently implemented ‘Spending Challenge’ page invites the British public to express their own ideas on cutting the government’s budget deficit.

As the government is open to cost-saving suggestions delivered through social media, you’ll forgive us for voicing our own advice for saving money and improving public service.

Rather than relying on large agencies, through none-creative barriers to tendering, we believe that public advertising can become both more engaging and cost-effective if the COI expressed confidence in leaner, talented agencies handling public sector public projects. Prioritising creative content over well-known names should be encouraged. It would certainly stop larger agencies from becoming over-dependent on government contracts; something the new coalition government can only be interested in promoting.

Saving money by asking private companies to take responsibility for their commercial activitities is a good start for the UK’s main media buyer. Is it ready to trust responsible agencies to provide value for money?


Camille le Goff is a Junior Brand Staffer with Vivid London

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