For some, it was the voice of the nanny state, hectoring us for our own good with messages such as "Clunk click, every trip!", "It's Thirty for a Reason!" and "Talk to Frank!" But after 65 years of advertising, the Central Office of Information is to be closed down with the loss of about 1,000 jobs. The plan forms part of the Government's programme of reducing its communications budget by £1bn a year.
Yesterday the Cabinet Office released a review by Matt Tee, the permanent secretary for government communication, which said the COI should be replaced by a new and more focused Government Communications Centre. The 15 per cent cut in existing COI staff is expected to save £50m a year.
The COI was formed in 1946 to replace the wartime Ministry of Information. Its concerns were public health and safety and its campaigns have been among the most memorable in British advertising. BBC television and radio presenter Jimmy Savile's "Clunk Click" campaign, to encourage the wearing of seatbelts, shocked audiences in the Seventies by showing a woman being thrown headfirst through a windscreen. "The face you start out with in the morning won't be the same face you end up with by the evening," said Savile.
In 1987 came an ad that was scarier still. Dark and apocalyptic, the Don't Die of Ignorance campaign showed the letters Aids being carved on a tombstone. "If you ignore Aids it could be the death of you," it warned.
They became more subtle. A campaign to prevent the spread of chlamydia depicted the sexually transmitted disease as a pink gremlin. The long running anti-drugs campaign Talk To Frank featured a mummified dog – "Pablo The Drugs Mule" – voiced by the comedian David Mitchell which showed young Britons using the smuggled cocaine that had killed the dog.
Under the Labour government, spending on public information drives, such as the Change4Life anti-obesity campaign, was deemed to be an important way to keep costs down elsewhere in the public sector. But figures released this week showed that COI fell last year from the top-spending British advertiser to the sixth, with an outlay of £105.4m. Yesterday, Mr Tee outlined a new organisation that would have "clearer, more-focused activities" and would be closer aligned to government priorities, rather than those of individual departments. It would also be committed to "good measures of impact or effectiveness".
Tim Lefroy, chief executive of the Advertising Association, said: "It's a thumbs-up for paid communications at the heart of policy delivery. It reaffirms the role of the COI although the name might go."
Hamish Pringle, director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, said: "There is no doubt that public sector advertising saves lives, improves the health of society, and as a result saves money. We are therefore pleased to see that the vital role that the COI plays will continue, albeit under a new name and structure."
Ads that struck hard
Pregnant Man, 1970
One of the most famous poster ads, Saatchi & Saatchi's campaign for the Health Education Council encouraged men to use contraceptives. "Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?"
The Green Cross Code, 1970s
A very British non-flying Superman with a green cross on his back urged children to, "Always Use the Green Cross Code, because I won't be there when you cross the road".
Don't Die of Ignorance, 1987
Made at the height of Aids crisis, this ad for Margaret Thatcher's government scared the life out of Britain as it darkly warned, "If you ignore Aids it could be the death of you".