I’ve had a sudden flood of hits on a post about the legal highs campaign, Crazy Chemist. What’s going on? Google quickly found this Daily Mail story: Anger at ‘appalling’ Government legal high campaign.
It turns out that the campaign has cause some outrage – among chemists. It’s a new academic year, and the campaign is running in universities across the UK. Trouble is, real-life lab types don’t seem to like it at all. See for example the BBC and the Telegraph. In a press release last week, the Royal Society of Chemists says
“This is a lazy stereotype of the chemist as unhinged scientist and it is totally irresponsible.”
I have to admit, at no point did we discuss the impact of this work on the public image of chemistry. Come on – it’s clearly a fictional character. We just wanted to create a campaign that would cut though with our message – just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
This point is well made in a robust justification of the campaign from James Brokenshire, Minister for Crime Prevention. The government has halved communications spend – but highly targeted campaigns with strong messaging are clearly still worth running.
Filed under: Advertising, Drugs, FRANK, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: Advertising, COI, effectiveness, FRANK, Mother, Politics
By the way, there’s an election on – and both parties will spend heavily on their campaigns: in 2005, they each spent just short of £18 million, and this time the Tories are already on their second national outdoor advertising campaign.
Nice to see they believe in the power of communications. So why are both parties pledging to cut government advertising budgets? The Tories will cut 40%, whilst Labour say they’ll cut 25% in two years time. Here are some of the lines being trotted out:
“Government is the UK’s biggest advertiser”
Shock horror: government ad spend was £207.9 million in 2009 overtaking P&G as the UK’s biggest advertiser. And why not? P&G spent £155 million in 2009, persuading us to buy Pampers instead of Huggies. Government communications deals with public health, climate change, drink-driving, etc. Wouldn’t we expect government to spend at least as much as P&G?
“We need to get tough on government waste”
Cutting communications budgets fits into the whole “finding efficiencies” narrative. This is massively short-sighted: spending on communications should be able to save the government money:
- The NHS spends £1.7 billion each year treating smoking-related conditions. Doesn’t it make sense to discourage people from smoking? The government spends on average $8 million a year on anti-smoking ads (with a 2008 burst of £28 million). Prevention before cure – does this sound like waste, or common sense?
- The NHS spends around £1.5 billion each year treating conditioned linked to obesity. The government is spending £75 million over three years on anti-obesity advertising. Sounds sensible to me./li>
“We need to reduce the deficit”
The Tories’s 40% cut would save around £80 million. This barely covers a few hours of the national deficit (currently running at £500 million a day). To put it in perspective, the money government would save covers the cost of widening a mile and a half of the M6 (costing £56 million a mile).
“We need spending cuts to boost the economy”
This is obviously the Tory philosophy – but there’s evidence that government advertising has a benefit to the economy.
- The Home Office spent £28.4 million over four years on its Vehicle Crime campaign, and econometric modeling shows this saved just over £590 million in the cost of crime (source: IPA effectiveness paper).
- Our own work for FRANK uses highly targeted communications to heavy drug users, getting them into treatment before they become problem drug users – saving up to £100,000 for each individual (the healthcare cost of a long term heroine user) as well as preventing broader social and economic harm.
Of course, it’s a few easy headlines: cracking down on waste, spin, nanny-state, etc. The Daily Mail love it, with a steady stream of stories like Celebrities paid £325,000 to appear in government advertising. The reality is, communications work – they’re an important policy tool, and the politicians know it.
Image from Adbusters
Filed under: Alcohol, Drugs, Economics, Education, Youth | Tags: Alcohol, digital, digital natives, Drugs, Education, lost generation, RSA, Youth, YouTube
A few of us from Mother went to the Lost Generation talk at the RSA last week, where the economist David Blanchflower warned of the “lull before the storm” in youth unemployment. Currently it’s 1 in 5, and set to rise. This is a big deal, he says: it could leave permanent social and economic damage on an entire generation.
Interesting to see the allergic reaction from Ruby Pseudo to the language of “lost generations”. Here she is, speaking up:
We have the tools; the abilities; the knowledge, to succeed in an increasingly digital world – we are fast thinking, forward thinking, adept and mobile. We are the net generation and, by that, the most powerful generation ever [and we’re the ones that are in trouble?!]
Ruby’s point is that the world of work needs to adapt to a generation with a different set of skills. It’s not just a macro economics question of job creation: as Miles Templeman of the Institute of Directors put it in the discussion after the talk, the old jobs are going, and they’re not coming back. The challenge is to find new ways of working, more flexible and engaging modes of employment.
All this sounds good, but something’s not right. Last week we spent a couple of hours talking to 16 year olds from local Hackney schools. None of them had a clue (or much interest) in what happens when school finishes – let alone any ideas about the future. These are the kids that the President of the National Union of Students Wes Streeting focused on during the talk – the ones at risk of real, lasting social exclusion, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.
When we asked them what would be their ideal job, there was a pretty clear answer: testing computer games. It made me think of Steve Johnson’s book Everything Bad Is Good For You: the technology/media/culture environment young people are growing up in is teaching them to new cognitive skills – skills which aren’t being engaged by the world of work.
If the way that young peoples minds work is changing, shouldn’t the world of school change too? Instead, we have an epidemic of Ritalin prescription in this country – in some towns, as many as one in seven children under 16 are prescribed Ritalin (source). This is the lost generation: thousands of young people being pathologised for the convenience of doctors, teachers and parents.
It’s the good old Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants generation gap. It’s not just the world of work that needs to change, the world of learning does too. As the US group Partnership for 21st Century Skills puts it, “today’s education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn”.
Before we start getting all “Learning 2.0″, let’s get some perspective. We asked the 16 year olds we met what they’re looking at on YouTube at the moment: as one of them said, “I just type in FUNNY SHIT and see what happens”. We thought we’d entertain ourselves and our clients by running together a montage of the clips they talked about…. LYAO!
“Dole Street” image grabbed from David Blanchflower’s RSA Presentation. Any YouTube copyright infringements unintentional!