Analysis: Government Adverts

The Government is one of our biggest advertisers. David Benady picks his most memorable campaigns
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Your Country Needs You


The army recruitment poster from the First World War is probably the most famous government propaganda advert ever. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, looked young men in the eye as he sought volunteers to expand Britain's wartime army. Many heeded the call, only to be annihilated in the trenches, and conscription began in 1916. The poster was much imitated, particularly in the United States.

Coughs & Sneezes...


This 1945 public health information film was designed to show how unprotected sneezing spread colds. A plummy voiceover chides sneezing proles: "Hi! Stop it, you. Stop it. STOP IT. Come here. What do you think you're up to? You've probably infected thousands of people. What do you think this is for? Now, handkerchief sneeze. Sneeze handkerchief. That's the idea. Handkerchief sneeze, handkerchief sneeze. Got it?"

Say No To No Say


The Greater London Council's 1984 campaign against its abolition featured this poster of the GLC leader Ken Livingstone looking all moody and Trotskyite with the words: "If you want me out, you should have the right to vote me out. Say no to no say." The BMP DDB campaign mobilised opinion against abolition, but it was ultimately ineffective. However, Livingstone pioneered the use of advertising in political communication.

I Couldn't, Could You?


The police recruitment TV campaign launched in 2000 featured celebrities explaining why they could not deal with everyday situations faced by the police. A BBC investigation claimed that the £12m campaign was a flop, resulting in only 400 extra police officers signing up - at a cost of £30,000 each. M&C Saatchi countered that over the period of the campaign, recruitment leapt by 9,020, a rise of 70 per cent on the previous year.

Be The Best


The police recruitment campaign was a reprise of the Army's "Be the Best" strategy through Saatchi & Saatchi, which ran between 1994 and 2000 and showed how difficult it was to be a soldier. Recruitment returned to previous levels during this period. Although the ads were derided for putting people off, they were considered effective in sifting out inappropriate applicants.

Use Your Head. Teach


This 2003 recruitment campaign showed bizarre images of headless people going in to soulless office jobs to the mocking tune of "Hi ho. Hi ho". It was dropped after teachers complained that it was too outlandish - even though the TTA claimed enquiries went up by 9 per cent. It was replaced with rather less disturbing ads featuring happy teachers and pupils with the line: "Work with the most exciting people in the world - children."

Sex Lottery


The "sex lottery" campaign, which ran in 2003 and 2004, warned 18-30-year-olds about the dangers of unprotected sex amid soaring levels of sexually transmitted infections. A mock Valentine card carried lines such as: "I love you so much it hurts ... when I pee." The campaign, created by Delaney Lund Knox Warren, was axed as the spread of the diseases continued unabated.

Drink Drive


This ad by Leo Burnett, run last year, shows a woman being hurled across a pub as if she has been hit by a car. Drink-driving ads have become increasingly terrifying over the years, but their effectiveness appears to have been dulled. There had been a dramatic fall in the number of fatalities from drink-driving accidents since the mid-1970s, but for the past 10 years, the trend has been slightly upward.



Timing is as important in government advertising as it is in comedy. This campaign promoting the uptake of stakeholder pensions featured a series featuring a sheepdog on the phone and one of them rounding up their herds, as one talked about the importance of having a pension. But it coincided with the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth, and the adverts were quickly taken off the TV and cinema screens once sheep began to be herded up for slaughter.



This campaign, run last year by the Department of Health's anti-smoking agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, set out to emphasise the impact that smoking can have on a person's sexual health and general attractiveness. It featured a pair of "finger legs" holding a cigarette with ash drooping from the end to show that smoking can cause men to become impotent. It said: "Does smoking make you hard? Not if it means you can't get it up."

Sid The Slug


The salt reduction campaign in 2005 featured an animated character, Sid the Slug, who explains the dangers of a high salt intake. He chases after a woman, haranguing her with the words: "Too much salt can lead to a heart attack." The campaign was axed after vociferous protests by the Salt Manufacturers Association, although the complaints were not upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Responsible Drinking


This ad by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R for the Home Office really does make you want to throw up. Part of the Government's clampdown on binge drinking, it warned that being sick in the street from drunkenness could attract a fine. It spells out that you face an £80 for vomiting. Many thought it was more than just chance that the campaign's launch coincided with the Government's controversial move to allow 24-hour opening of pubs.