Brands add strength to government campaigns

Brands are being drafted in like superheroes as part of the coalition government’s Big Society agenda to develop more partnerships with business, but will it work? By Lou Cooper

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As the government axes large swathes of its budget, it is being forced to take a different approach to campaigns designed to change consumer behaviour. One consequence of this has been greater collaboration with the corporate sector in order to share the financial burden of some campaigns and to broaden their overall appeal and reach.

Like previous governments, prime minister David Cameron is pushing the idea of getting people to behave more virtuously through choice rather than legislation. Public health is a priority area for behaviour change because half of UK health spending goes on treating the consequences of unhealthy behaviour, such as drinking. Yet only 0.5% of NHS spending goes on promoting healthy behaviour.

Instead of the government increasing its spend upfront, it is calling on brand power to effect behaviour change. The Department for Communities and Local Government, for example, has called on brands to help develop new fire safety campaigns and in some cases help pay for them.

But brands can benefit government campaigns further than giving financial assistance, according to many marketers and government departments. This month saw the launch of Change4Life’s Great Swapathon – a £250m initiative, paid for by the food and drink trade and fitness industry partners, to encourage people to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

The centrepiece of the scheme is a £50 voucher book that provides discounts on healthier foods and activities. Of the 5 million books to be made available, 4 million will be given away by the News of the World and Asda stores, and 1 million through GP surgeries, local businesses, schools and local community services.

Change4Life: Great Swapathon initiative involves commercial partners

A Department of Health (DoH) spokesperson says: “We have harnessed the reach of the News of the World’s millions of readers and of the millions of people who shop at Asda. This initiative shows how small steps by business can encourage small healthy steps for families without it costing the taxpayer a penny.”

So what is the incentive for brands to get involved in government initiatives like Change4Life and how effective are they at promoting behavioural change?

For some it’s a case of aligning themselves with a scheme that complements their brand message or CSR agenda. A spokesperson for Birds Eye – which has a coupon in the GS voucher book to promote its packs of frozen vegetables – explains: “Providing healthy and environmentally sustainable products is at the core of Birds Eye’s responsibility strategy, Forever Food. Signing up to Change4Life was therefore an obvious step.”

For others, it is the belief that the campaign will add value to the brand as it gains momentum. Bruce Learner, corporate responsibility manager at Kellogg Europe, says: “I like the [Change4Life] colours, I like the imagery. It’s not patronising, it’s fun and engaging and I hope similar to the Kellogg brand identity. My belief is that Change4Life is becoming recognised and understood and valued, so it’s good for us to be part of something that is valued.”

Meanwhile, NestlŽ is offering 25p off its Low Fat Ski Yogurts and Pure Life water brands at Asda through the GS voucher book. Elizabeth Davies, senior corporate communications manager at NestlŽ UK and Ireland, says Pure Life’s involvement “is part of the brand’s over-arching marketing campaign, which champions the importance of healthy hydration for families.”

David Stalker, executive director at the Fitness Industry Association (FIA), which has 1,000 members taking part in the Great Swapathon, believes that affiliating with a countrywide campaign can greatly increase a brand’s exposure. “None of our groups, especially our single site operators, has the potential to attain this kind of national exposure on their own.”

Government responsibility deal in action

The government’s Responsibility Deal with the food and drink industry is a public/private agreement on the approach to food, alcohol, physical activity and behaviour change. It comes as a result of discussions between ministers, charities and multinationals including Unilever and Diageo.

The Great Swapathon is a good example of the Responsibility Deal in action. Families are being urged to swap at least one unhealthy habit for a healthier one.

The DoH has also recently announced a wider rollout of its Change4Life convenience store scheme. Shops such as Spar, Londis and Nisa Local will sell a wider range of fruit and veg in return for the DoH providing funding for retailers to buy Change4Life-branded fresh produce chillers and marketing materials, with retailers matching the government’s contributions.

For the private sector as a whole, the biggest benefit of increased involvement in public sector campaigns may be the lifting of the threat of increased regulation of food and drink advertising and marketing. Christine Haigh, campaign co-ordinator at Children’s Food Campaign – which is critical of increased brand involvement in government campaigns – says: “The new government is much more pro business and is keen to avoid anything like regulation, which we think in some cases is necessary. The food industry is keen to avoid being regulated and wants to be seen to be doing good things. Likewise, the government wants it to look like the food industry is doing something, so that regulation won’t be required.”

According to CFC, the newly launched voucher scheme is an “insult” to consumers and of “little benefit” to them. Haigh argues that increased private sector involvement in government campaigns will lead to brands exploiting them. However, Learner at Kellogg Europe explains that without credibility the benefits of the partnership are lost.

He says: “If businesses were free to use Change4Life imagery whenever they wanted, it would only take one or two businesses to abuse it and then the credibility and the scheme falls apart. I’m not aware of any examples where businesses have abused the Change4Life relationship.”

Financial incentive: Asda will help distribute money-off coupons

Detractors further argue that Change4Life has failed to make an impact on obesity levels to date, with the latest figures from the National Child Measurement Programme showing that nearly 25% of four-year-olds are overweight or obese and that when leaving primary school the rate is one in three.

However, brands are confident they have something to contribute to this behaviour change campaign. “We can add to the messages [the government] is already communicating and we can reach people in a different way,” says Kellogg’s Learner. Many consumers see messaging from brands as less interfering than government-led communication.

Stalker at the FIA – where nearly 35% of its public and private sector members are working with Change4Life – says that its members are effective at reaching out to the community. “The relationship [health clubs have] with people in the area is different to that of the DoH. We are not issuing directives, rather an opportunity to get involved.”

Companies firmly believe that a government/ brand collaboration on future projects will present a win-win situation for both parties in the long term.
Learner at Kellogg Europe explains that the brand-led message is both good for the government and its own business: ” We very much hope that people choose to buy Corn Flakes as part of a healthy life. And what the DoH wants is for people to eat breakfast at home, rather than perhaps buy crisps or chocolate, the things we know that people are eating for breakfast. If they eat well by eating a family staple like Corn Flakes, that’s brilliant for us.”

Stalker at the FIA agrees: “If you’re going to be involved in these things, you have to understand what the end goal or achievement of the DoH is. If that drives your commercial brand forward, then great. We can use established relationships to drive the consumer in a responsible manner.”

But it will take more than a voucher scheme to convince critics of the worth of coalition collaborations.

Making the behaviour change message more explicit

Last year the government opted to spend less on advertising and make Coca-Cola its key partner for its seasonal drink-drive campaign.

Coca-Cola GB has run a designated driver campaign for several years now, offering buy one get one free promotions on its soft drinks throughout December. The brand has always had the backing of the Department for Transport, but last year it became a partnership scheme.

For the first time in recent years, the government scrapped its media spend on television and instead highlighted the brand partnership in radio, online and washroom ads.

The decision was not universally popular, with Louise Ellman, chairman of the government’s Transport Select Committee, telling Marketing Week’s sister title Pitch/ “Enforcement of drink-drive regulations in Great Britain must become much more visible, frequent, sustained and well-publicised. There has to be stronger enforcement than a partnership with a multinational soft drinks vendor.”

However, Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland country manager Jon Woods believes that its brand power enables the responsible drinking message to be at the front of people’s minds. He states: “The ultimate aim of the partnership is to help raise awareness of responsible drinking, recognising that Christmas is a time for celebration.”

He says the partnership helps to replace the graphic cautionary nature of the TV ads and “encourages people to do the right thing while still enjoying a great night out with friends and family”.

Figures for the campaign are unavailable, but sources say the campaign proved to the government that it was able to get closer to consumers at the crucial moment of decision-making by working with a renowned brand. Joe Fernandez, assistant editor, Pitch