Farewell to the COI

                                                     

The government, among other advertisers, has been using insights from disciplines such as behavioural economics and social psychology to change the public’s behaviour for the better. Launching campaigns such as Change4Life, and with the NHS supporting educational TV programmes such as the Food Hospital, it has started to put the wealth of insight offered by these sciences to good use, and seen some impressive results.

These campaigns have been a great start towards trying to change lifestyles but the government has not fully followed through with their efforts. Amidst all the other budget cuts, the government froze the £540m-a-year COI ad budget (to focus only on ‘essential’ campaigns) until March 2011, followed by a reduction in ad spend by 50% thereafter.  Finally, by the end of the month, the COI will cease to exist as the government has decided to make different departments responsible for their own communications.

The Change4Life campaign initially showed the promise of success. However, since the cuts have been made, there has been a significant drop in the number of visits to the campaign website and to calls requesting information.

This could, as the government is probably aware, be a false economy, and the deterioration of public health can have wide-reaching and costly long-term effects. Ignoring the nation’s unhealthy habits could lead to more government spending on healthcare – potentially undoing the savings made by slashing the communications budget. In addition, an unhealthy society could lead to a less productive workforce – costing the government even more money. Given how effective the Change4Life campaign has been, it would be great to see the government reinvest its time, effort and money to engage with behavioural change communications.

We hope that even with the COI closed down, the government will be able to continue producing creative and effective behavioural change campaigns, like the one below – Kathy Can’t Sleep ad from the late 1980s, promoting safe driving under the slogan ‘drinking and driving wrecks lives’. It depicts a little girl Kathy whose dad got into a fatal accident, leaving the family to deal with the consequences of his actions.

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