COI, the UK’s public service marketing office closes today. Here’s my collection of its best recent work

After 66 years of public information campaigns, the UK’s Central Office of Information closes today. I rather hoped that it’s defunct twitter account would start tweeting away classic works, but alas, no.

Often the media will report on COI’s work by showing some of the older TV ads. But there was a lot more to it than this.

I worked there from 2009-2011 and saw the tail end of a leader in complex behaviour change campaigns – quitting smoking, fighting obesity, and – through digital services – in making government more open and accessible.

Here’s a few of my favourites pieces of work from the last few years. It’s easy to market a product – it’s not easy to change behaviour for public good. These ads show some final products, which followed months, or years, of research and strategy.

NHS Stroke awareness. This is a modern classic – seems very old school, but does a great job. Simple, memorable. And saved lives.

Royal Marines – It’s a state of mind. Just one of loads of high quality ads for armed forces recruitment.

Talk to FRANK (drugs helpline). Funny, daring, perfect for the target audience.

Dept of Health – Change4Life:  Two of the TV ads are below, but they weren’t the main part of the campaign, which was a long education process involving web, direct mail and live events, based on extensive behaviour change research. It spawned a hundred other obesity prevention campaigns like Dance4life, swim4life, and so on. Could have been a valuable brand for the UK Govt.

Met Police – It doesn’t have to happen. Really smart – a choose your own adventure for YouTube – directed by the audience the Met wanted to reach.

Along with a couple of powerful films

And in conclusion..

 Prevention was better (and cheaper) than a cure: Change4Life’s £50m campaign budget (later halved) sounded expensive, until you realised obesity will cost billions. So the campaign only had to affect part of the overall picture to save money. And people wanted to change. Hundreds of thousands responded to the campaign, ordering material and taking part in events.

And COI were getting pretty good at the complex econometric analysis that showed that this stuff worked. Comms offices around the world would come to COI to see how we did it.

But, hey, we can just get the private sector to deliver it at better value, right? Like erm, trains..and utilities…and now hospitals and universities…sob.

(And here’s some radio ads.)

(And here’s one random oldie that I like – no idea why it was made, especially in the Thatcher era, but it’s hilarious, and has a Michael Nyman soundtrack)

The official version of COI’s history is here.


Reviewing Uncategorized

Nuggets from @nesta_uk & @the_young_fdn work on how public services can foster innovation

  I’ve been looking at the Young Foundation & Nesta’s Open Book of Social Innovation over the weekend – super interesting. Here’s a quick précis:

Premise: We’ve got a problem…

“The classic tools of government policy on the one hand, and market solutions on the other, have proved grossly inadequate

“The silos of government departments are poorly suited to tackling complex problems which cut across sectors and nation states. Civil society lacks the capital, skills and resources to take promising ideas to scale.”

“The prospective cost of dealing with these issues threatens to swamp public budgets, and in the case of climate change, or healthcare in the US, private budgets as well.”

Solution: Social innovation, leading to…

 “an emerging social economy…Its key features include:


•  The intensive use of distributed networks to sustain and manage relationships, helped by broadband, mobile and other means of communication.

•  Blurred boundaries between production and consumption. 

•  An emphasis on collaboration and on repeated interactions, care and maintenance rather than one-off consumption. 

•  A strong role for values and missions.

They point to the growth of “global infrastructure, social-networking tools” and an “increased focus on the individual and relationships rather than systems and structures”, as distinctive characteristics of the social economy. 

“The role of the consumer changes from a passive to an active player: to a producer in their own right.”

Role of public sector in making innovation happen:

“Innovation in the public sector always risks being a marginal add-on – small scale in terms of funds, commitment of people and political capital.” 

That’s sad.

But happily, NESTA and the Young Foundation have some suggestions for improvement. I’ve copied in the most interesting below and added links:

– have a dedicated innovation fund, like the NHS’s £200m fund
– voluntary taxes – no, honestly, apparently the Mayor of Bogota asked, and 63,000 gave! Awesome.
– community pledgebanks (perhaps with matched public funding?)

And of particular interest for civil servants:

– Tithes of working time for self-directed projects (Google’s 20% is often mentioned (and it’s important to recognise self-directed products), but is it still their policy?)
– Secondments into ‘skunkworks‘ projects: basically given a free role, unhampered by bureaucracy (imagine the competition for these jobs!)

And my favourite:

– “‘A-teams’ of young civil servants commissioned to develop innovative solutions” – but also from universities, private sector etc in this South Aus example

Top stuff – take a look at the full book, it’s full of ideas, not just for public services, but grant-making organisations and private and informal sectors.