18 August, 2019 - 21:17 By Richard Taylor, Managing Director, Simpsons Creative

The best and worst of public service advertising

If you have something to say, say it. If you have nothing to say, use showmanship. That’s the philosophy that some live by in the advertising business.

With many consumer products it’s hard to find a USP. One soap powder is much like another, so to stand out you have to resort to a bit of razzle-dazzle or, as some might call it, smoke and mirrors. 

With public service advertising you have the opposite problem. You often have too much to say and are in danger of boring the audience into submission with an information overload.  Take obesity, for example, a major health issue in Britain today and you could quote reams of statistics to prove the point and give no end of dire warnings to people. 

So how refreshing to see the solution hit on by the current government-sponsored campaign which revolves around the creation of a spoof cigarette brand named ‘Obesity’. 

It mimics the logo and graphics of popular cigarette brands down to a little crown over the ‘O’ of Obesity, a diagonal sash across the ‘pack’ and, of course, a government health warning.

Like all good advertising it’s a neat blend of wit and wisdom, conveying the fact that obesity can be as deadly as smoking. They could have quoted the research that proves it, but how motivating would that have been? No, this is one of those cases when a picture is worth a thousand words.

Moving from public health to public transport, honourable mention should be given to the current ad campaign for East Anglia rail. They’ve taken the tack of rubbishing the competition – risky when rail services can be as unpredictable as road travel – but I think it comes off in this instance.

The copywriting is good – ‘Get stuck in a book, not traffic’– and I particularly like the spoof number plate TRFC 5UX which translates as ‘traffic sucks’ for those of you who are not into the joys of personal number plate ownership. I think they’re missing a trick though, by not having a ‘drink and ride’ campaign, but perhaps that’s coming up the track!

Speaking of missed opportunities, the pros and cons of Brexit have been poorly put forward so far. On the one hand you have the infamous NHS campaign bus making oversimplified and inaccurate claims (let’s just call it a lie). 

On the other you have Project Fear 1, 2 and 3 – more oversimplification and inaccuracy (OK, lies). In simple marketing terms emotion will always win over facts when the fact of the matter is up for debate. Fail to appeal at that level and you lose.

In point of fact there are social and economic arguments to be made for both propositions, but they’re drowned out by bile and bluster on both sides.

Boris Johnson has promised us the biggest ever public service campaign re Brexit which will be landing on your doormat any day now and, if the £100 million budget is correct, it dwarfs the pre-vote £7m leaflet campaign by the David Cameron government for remain in terms of spend.  

Let’s see how ‘informed’ we all feel over the weeks to come in the run up to Halloween! 


Newsletter Subscription

Stay informed of the latest news and features