The bigoted game

The FA is planning a hard-line TV campaign to root out racism among fans, citing the success of the drink-driving and seatbelt ads as good grounds for its strategy. But persuading people to ‘clunk-click’ is not the same as tackling deeply held

“When did it become acceptable to hate the Turkish?” asks Faulds chairman Dennis Chester. “It seems to be almost healthy to be racist at the moment. How could this happen?”

Chester asks a question that crossed many minds following the scenes of racist chanting and violence that marred a football match between England and Turkey in April. More than 10,000 English fans booed the Turkish anthem and chanted “stand up if you hate the Turkish” and “I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk”. The police charged only one person.

UEFA fined the Football Association &£71,000 for the fans’ behaviour and threatened England with expulsion from the Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal should there be further trouble. Many fear the return fixture in Turkey will be a bloodbath, with even the FA now admitting that hooliganism is again on the rise.

The game’s up

The FA has reacted by planning its first TV advertising campaign to combat racism and xenophobia (MW last week). FA marketing and communications manager Nick Barron says the campaign aims to change the behaviour of football supporters. He points to the success of the drink-driving campaign as an example of how advertising can shape the behaviour of the nation.

Through a variety of means – but most notably government advertising that since the Seventies has highlighted the dangers of drink-driving – the number killed each year by drunk drivers has fallen to about 500, from 1,700 in 1975.

The government push for seatbelt use has also been heralded a success. More than 60 per cent of adults and 90 per cent of children now wear seatbelts, according to data from the Department for Transport (DfT), compared with 45 per cent and 80 per cent respectively before the campaign started in 1998.

According to the DfT, the Think! road safety logo is now “spontaneously recognised by 69 per cent of adults and by 90 per cent of drivers under 30” after three years of campaigning.

DfT marketing director David Murphy says these successes prove that advertising has an impact on how people behave. He says: “Twenty years ago it was totally acceptable for people to drink and drive and not wear seatbelts, and now it is not.”

However, there is scepticism that an advertising campaign can affect deeply held prejudices such as racism. Gary Duckworth, currently chairman of DFGW but soon to step down from his managerial responsibilities, says behaviour motivated by aspects of human nature such as fear and ignorance are more difficult to change.

Time to change

Duckworth points out that the drink-driving message has taken 20 years to have an impact, which means a single anti-racism campaign stands much less chance of succeeding.

He says: “There is a danger that this is just a knee-jerk reaction. Racism is an issue that needs to be out there and talked about, aired and discussed, but this needs to be the start of a dedicated long-term plan to have an effect.”

Marketing Society chief executive Hugh Burkitt agrees that single-issue campaigns such as drink-driving have been successful but he worries that racism is too complicated to be tackled by advertising.

Burkitt says: “Seatbelts and drink-driving are a lot easier as there is a single cause with obvious benefits, and the facts are clear-cut and easily related. With racism, what exactly are you directing people to do?”

According to Burkitt, there has never been an effective campaign against racism because the issue cannot be broken down into simple message advertising. “Anti-racism campaigns are normally dismissed by the majority who, rightly or wrongly, think they are not racist, and are ignored by those who know they are.”

Even so, football authorities have tried to create successful campaigns against racism since the Eighties. The flagship campaign Kick It Out, started by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the Professional Footballers’ Association in 1993, organises some 700 anti-racist activities at all levels of football.

Rhyme and reasoning

In 2001, the CRE launched a campaign against racism in football on FilmFour, based around a poem by Benjamin Zephaniah. It was tasteful, artistic and, according to one industry source, widely seen as having absolutely no impact. He says: “Even those who are not hardcore nutcases are unlikely to have taken the message from a poem. It really was wide of the mark.”

Other past tactics have included a Football Yes, Violence No campaign, which promoted friendship between fans of rival countries, while the England squad recently posed in Kick It Out T-shirts.

Sensing that a change in approach was needed, the FA asked Mother and TBWA/London to pitch ideas for a more aggressive campaign. An FA insider says: “A lot of previous attempts were upbeat, extolling the virtues of one-world togetherness. We want something aggressive and hard-hitting, which will send a message to those who think it is acceptable to join in with hooligans at matches.”

Working with media partners the BBC and BSkyB, the FA will provide access to England footballers for use in the advertising. The FA wants the campaign in place by July, although the first elements will roll out before the Slovenia game on June 11.

An FA source says: “For all its strengths, the trouble with the Kick It Out campaign is that the majority of people don’t see themselves as racist, so it has no effect. People really don’t see booing a national anthem as racist. We want to make sure people know it is wrong.”

Targeting the “passive racist” – the football fan who accepts or copies rather than leads the hooliganism – is not a new approach. The CRE has launched a number of similar campaigns over the past few years, notably ads in which celebrities morphed into different races. Another campaign, which featured overtly racist attitudes such as “Scared? You should be. He’s a dentist”, led to a number of complaints.

A just goal

Brett Gosper, chairman of Euro RSCG, which created the advertising for the CRE, says the FA has taken the right approach in targeting fans who do not see themselves as racist.

Gosper says: “A lot of people said our work failed but that wasn’t true. It made the silent majority feel really uncomfortable, which brought the issue to their attention and generated an enormous amount of press.”

Some worry, however, that the FA’s aggressive stance might make people defensive. Sophie Spence, strategist for new business at Mother, says there were five “no-go areas” on the brief for the Government’s recently launched anti-drugs campaign, Frank, which the agency developed.

Spence says: “We couldn’t be seen to be glamorising, condoning, stigmatising, preaching or scaring. The last two can be really futile in public awareness campaigns because people get defensive at any personal attack.”

The Government’s previous anti-drug campaign was created by DFGW, which won an effectiveness award in 1997. Duckworth agrees that it is important not to preach.

He says: “You have to let people make up their own minds, rather than wag your finger at them. You have to treat people as responsible adults capable of rational decision.”

DFGW says the campaign helped double the number of drug users claiming to have quit in 1996, while the number of calls to the National Drug Helpline rose sharply. Also as a result, the number of people who said they were “sure or fairly sure they would use drugs in the future” dropped 29 per cent.

The Portman Group’s latest campaign to promote responsible drinking – If You Do Do Drink, Don’t Do Drunk – has taken a different approach. It aims to isolate the minority of heavy drinkers by using shock tactics. But chief executive Gene Coussins admits the campaign is unlikely to change drinking habits immediately, and that a shift in attitude is at least one generation away.

Shocking but true

Piara Powar, director of Kick It Out, also worries that people are becoming immune to the use of shocking images in advertising. He believes the use of role models on TV could be effective.

“Advertising has a role to play, particularly when it uses role models such as David Beckham. There is a message to be pushed using the England football team – many commercial companies pay them for that purpose.”

The argument whether to go for tactics of shock or persuasion is unending, according to Chester, but he says the key to successfully changing behaviour is a large budget, a lot of time and a culture already beginning to improve.

Burkitt agrees that changing English culture is a task too large for advertising and too wide for just the FA. He says a fundamental shift in attitude is needed first. “Advertising can get people to put toothpaste in their baskets, not change their attitudes on life. Advertising can reinforce a growing attitude. It can’t change the world.”

But all agree that a start has been made. Football has always had an unhealthy link with racism, from the jingoistic strains of World Cup football songs to the loathsome scenes of player-baiting that can still occur. Now the FA is under pressure to take its anti-racism work more seriously. Putting football manager Kevin Keegan in a multi-coloured T-shirt to promote harmony is no longer an acceptable answer, and forthcoming advertising has to be the beginning of a longer-term campaign to drive prejudice from the stadiums. Otherwise English football could find itself on the bench for future tournaments.

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