Public Health England on the challenge of keeping the sugar and anti-smoking agendas ‘alive’

Public Health England faces a challenge of keeping its health campaigns fresh every year but believes it is the right strategy to bring back trusted messages such as ‘Change4Life’.

Public Health England anti-smoking campaign

Public Health England (PHE) is pushing e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking for the first time and bringing back its ‘Change4Life’ campaign as it looks to find new ways to keep the stop smoking and sugar agendas alive.

The ‘Smoking Health Harms’ campaign features a video that uses a bell jar experiment to show the difference smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes and quitting smoking has on lungs. The spot, filmed at University College London, is designed to show smokers the difference switching to e-cigarettes can make.

“It’s not shock, horror or awe but Pavlovian disgust is how we describe our videos”, PHE’s marketing director Sheila Mitchell tells Marketing Week. Week. Alongside the TV advert the campaign will also include digital and PR activity.

The campaign is the first time PHE has pushed e-cigerettes as a category. It comes as Mitchell admits that because most of the public knows smoking is bad for you finding new ways to get the message across becomes “challenging”.

Mitchell explains: “The challenge from our perspective is how do you find new creative ways into a subject How do you keep the smoking issue alive or the sugar agenda?”

She adds: “You have to come at it with new news and this year the new news is around the e -cigarette agenda.”

READ MORE: Public Health England wants to make its brand ‘part of the fabric of society’

The move comes after Public Health England updated its views on e-cigarettes. Where previously there were concerns that promoting e-cigarettes would encourage non-smokers to take up the habit, they are now seen as key cessation tool.

However, this message is yet to be realised by the public. Despite the fact that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful that normal smoking, 44% of smokers think they are as harmful as smoking or are unsure.

A decade of Change4Life

Public Health England is also bringing back its Change4Life campaign a decade after it first began. It was the UK’s first national social marketing campaign aimed at tackling the causes of obesity  and over the 10 years the clay characters have become a regular fixture on TV.

Despite rarely making major changes to the marketing, the campaign now has the highest awareness and trust levels since it started, according to PHE. And Mitchell says she has “no plans to change it just yet”.

“I often think that marketeers and journalists get fed up of [a campaign] before the public does,” she says.

That doesn’t mean PHE hasn’t considered changing the campaign. Mitchell is open to new ideas and every three years it opens up the campaign to allow agencies to pitch new ideas.

She adds: “I am very aware that it’s been 10 years and I do ask has it got outdated?”

I often think that marketeers and journalists get fed up of campaigns before the public does.

Sheila Mitchell, Public Health England

The latest Change4Life campaign is ‘Sugar Swaps’, which launches today (2 January) and aims to encourage families to cut back on sugar by making simple swaps to everyday food and drink.

The TV advert highlights the extra sugar that children are eating a day using animated and mischievous ‘sugar cube invaders’.

Retailers and manufacturers will also be supporting the campaign by highlighting healthier options and many will be using a new Change4Life ‘good choice’ badge in-store and in their own advertising and communications.

Mitchell believes the reason Change4Life has remained so popular is that the campaign has expanded into different settings including partnering with schools and introducing apps. The longevity of the campaign has also given it a stronger sense of authority.

Mitchell explains: “You walk away from that yellow [logo] at your peril because people know it’s a brand they can trust and it’s from the government. They know there is this authority voice there.”

Mitchell says that there is a “rigorous process” behind all their research to see if the campaigns are working. She says: “You don’t see systemic changes but you see lots of little shifts that add up to show that the culture is changing.”

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