News Analysis: Advertising with a Conscience

Article excerpt

Public sector campaigns are winning awards for effectiveness and creativity on a limited budget.

Public sector campaigns scooped a clutch of gongs at last week's IPA Effectiveness Awards, underlining the role that advertising, which is often maligned as a blight on society, can play in improving it.

Five pieces of work won gold, silver and bronze awards in recognition of their success in tackling a range of issues, from reducing gun crime to persuading the public to visit historic houses.

Richard Storey, chief strategy officer at M & C Saatchi, and convenor of judges for the awards, says: 'We saw examples of how advertising can rescue a failing business, launch a successful brand extension and insulate a brand from competition. But what inspired the judges most was the proof that it can be successfully and creatively used to reduce social problems such as gun crime.'

The success of the public sector campaigns was all the more impressive, adds Storey, given 'the combination of huge challenges and limited resources' that the agencies had to contend with.

'Stop the guns', a campaign created by MCBD and MediaCom for the Metropolitan Police's anti-gun crime initiative, Trident, won both the Grand Prix and a Gold Award. The work has reduced gun crime among black communities in London by 15% since the campaign began and increased the number of people giving information to the police by 86% - all on a budget of less than pounds 250,000.

Limited budgets bring with them a different way of working, says Andy Nairn, planning director at MCBD. 'It forces you to be creative in terms of research, strategy, production, and the media you use. But tackling engrained social problems requires a non-traditional approach too.'

The principal challenges MCBD faced were the absence of proper debate about guns, lack of trust in the police, fear of coming forward with information and the glamorisation of guns in music, fashion, film and computer games.

Among the strategies employed to reach the 14- to 24-year-old black male audience in selected London boroughs, was leaving music magazines pierced by 'bullet' holes in barbershops. An insert on the final page explained that gun crime tore through communities, and encouraged witnesses to come forward.

It also commissioned an anti-gun music track, Badman, from top grime act Roll Deep. This was distributed with no Trident branding, to club DJs, music shops, TV and radio stations, and on MySpace. The song was given free airtime on music stations and built such street cred that when a four-minute Trident-branded video was launched, it generated huge online viewing figures.

On the basis that every murder costs the taxpayer pounds 1.5m, the three-year campaign will pay for itself twice over if it prevents one death, while MCBD estimates the free publicity generated could be worth more than pounds 1m a year.

Much of the success of the 'Stop the guns' campaign came from its ability to embed itself in a difficult-to-reach culture. …