The role of the public information campaign
Andrew Wigley explains how public information campaigns are used to raise large scale awareness and change mindsets
Thursday 10 November 2011
On 5 May, we experienced a very rare phenomenon in the political culture of the UK. The referendum on the Alternative Vote was only the second time ever a plebiscite has been held in this country. Used by politicians for only the most significant decisions that affect the UK and its unwritten constitution, the referendum is a political tool designed to reach the widest possible audience, and also has the capacity to create high drama and surprise results.
However, the AV referendum created little drama and for most of us, the ‘No’ result was not a surprise. The disappointment was that the referendum campaign felt distinctly lack lustre and failed to engage the public at large.
There were, in fact, three campaigns – the campaign by the Electoral Commission to raise public awareness of the vote, plus the two campaigns led by the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps. With an estimated combined expenditure of £200m, a lot of money was thrown at a public information campaign. The Electoral Commission alone sent out 27.8 million information booklets on the referendum and elections – one to every UK household. It was supported by a nationwide advertising campaign on television and radio. And the net result was a turnout of 42 per cent.
The failure of this campaign shouldn’t distract from the role of public education campaigns and their influence. Done well, they have a considerable capability to inform a diverse range of audiences and affect enormous change.
Information campaigns are nothing new. The Reformation that swept across Europe in the 1500s was fuelled by an information campaign brought to life by means of the printing press which had been recently developed. The Reformation campaign and its core ideas of change were disseminated by means of printed material delivered through a network of over 200 printing centres in Europe.
In later years the Victorians became adept at running campaigns to promote the virtues of being a colonial power and communicating the civilising values that the British were taking to the colonies. It was important to ensure the general public understood the tangible benefits of its overseas expansion in terms of trade, as well as being positioned as part of the great education mandate that the Victorians embraced culminating in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886.
More recently public education campaigns have been deployed by Government and lobbies alike to promote a range of causes and issues. Notably, and where they add the most value perhaps, is on promoting health awareness and changing behaviours to improve well-being. The famous AIDS advertising campaign the Government ran in the 1980s was criticised for stigmatising sufferers of the condition but remains widely credited at having changed the course and reach of the disease among the British public.
The last decade saw significant expenditure on campaigns that addressed food safety, breast cancer and road safety. Drawing on a mix of visual and print, television and radio, advertising and PR consultancies have benefitted from the splash of campaigns. And they’ve served a purpose; fewer road traffic accidents and reduced incidences of breast cancer deaths can point both to both advances in technology /medicine but also greater awareness, and in the case of early disease, earlier diagnosis.
The challenge facing the Government now is how, in the age of austerity, how it can continue ensuring its messages about public health and safety continue to be disseminated with few resources. We’ll likely see a shift away from expensive advertising and direct mail to cheaper services such as public relations.
Public information campaigns play an important role in educating, informing and affecting change. It’s just a shame that the vote for electoral reform proved to be such a shoddy public education campaign.
For more information, videos and advice for SMEs, visit www.freshbusinessthinking.com
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
iJobs Money & Business
$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer Office...
$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...
Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...
Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...