The Taxpayer’s Alliance, 20:20 London and the DCSF are all wrong…and right!

The series of 22 weekly videos to mobiles, designed to prevent teenage pregnancy have been severely criticised by The Taxpayer’s Alliance. Based on figures from the BBC, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) initiative cost £45 per subscriber as only 5,576 had registered for the free downloads. The DCSF countered by saying it was only a trial and the figures didn’t take 83,000 youtube views into account or the 265,000 visits to the website. However, a conversion rate of 2% is disappointing.

The DCSF is right to test new approaches, especially to hard-to-reach audiences. But are Government educational videos really the best thing to send to kids’ mobile phones? How hard are they to view on a tiny screen that’s been through the washing machine a couple of times? How much would anyone want to follow it after the novelty’s worn off? Are kids in deprived inner cities really likely to sign up? Even with the faux teenage txt spk on the homepage? Are the scripts as authentic as The Inbetweeners? Teenagers instantly spot a ‘fraud’.

The campaign was produced by leading digital agency 20:20 London. Would a more traditional DM agency steeped in a culture of test, refine and roll out have recommended this campaign? Many digital campaigns are still technique-driven rather than based on sound ROI principles. To only distribute 5,000 of anything free is not a great return, especially if you’ve spent £250,000 doing it.

For instance, on these figures it would have been cheaper to phone everyone up and have a chat about their sex lives. Or send them loads of free condoms. Surely a sassy viral, along with some deft deployment of social networking and a reality TV celeb to get it off the ground would have reached more teenagers? Even a few witty txt msgs would have done the job better.

But I doubt the Taxpayer’s Alliance would buy that either. After all, they oppose all tax rises as a matter of principle, even if they might pay for a better NHS, more people surviving cancer, better educated kids or safer streets. They are they Daily Mail in finance format so anything that upsets them must have merit. And hey, we’ve all learnt far more from campaigns that bombed than those that worked. So well done DCSF for trying, but next time work harder on the maths. See me after school.

  • Bret Stout

    Great article! “Great marketing” is two very distinct parts: 1) Breaking the Code, and 2) Building relationships. Breaking the code is about knowing your target audience, understanding their current perception of your client’s brand – and delivering relevant storytelling that with change/enhance that perception to alter behavior – and when you alter behavior, you drive consumer consumption. Relationships are built by moving your target from consumption to loyalist – and ultimately to brand advocate. It’s all about breaking their code of need/want and encouraging authentic dialogue.

  • Flavia Giardino

    Great article Neil. We share similar thoughts on the evolutionary way of thinking and communicating with consumers. Challenging behaviour is all about challenging consumers to understand and experience the brand benefits for themselves. 

  • Hugh Alford

    – Good article

    marketing campaigns that only measure short term ROI are simply a
    series of snapshots that might record temporary behaviour change but like a cheap
    a Chinese take-away meal – soon forgotten. Challenging-behaviour marketing is nearer
    to the epic movie with its attending financial risks but more likely to lead to
    more sustained changed behaviour.

    Some of
    my  favourite examples of
    behaviour-challenging marketing

    the public who 30 years ago drank tap water to insist on bottled mineral water-
    loyalty to  Perrier, Evian ….

    folk to stand and queue to collect a coffee and find a seat or ‘to go’ rather
    than sit and wait to be served – loyalty to Costa, Starbucks…..

    the public to surrender all manner of personal information on social media to listening
    marketers -loyalty to facebook.

    folk to distinguish their preferred insurance website through- loyalty to a meerkat puppet.

  • Neil Fox

    for the feedback – the comments underline two really important aspects of this
    way of thinking:

    1. breaking down the masks people wear by telling stories that achieve a deeper
    resonance with individuals.
    2. creating experiences that involve people in the brand itself.

    Of course the degree to which we understand the individual is key in this, but both
    aspects point to a really basic truth – that communities are built on shared
    language (stories) and experience. The recent and celebrated examples are in
    fact rarely new. Take Starbucks – an example cited by Hugh.

    the provenance of coffee houses being used as destinations for communal
    conversations go way back – the first London coffee house was established in
    1652 and the original coffee house in Oxford (Queens Lane Coffee House) still
    remains to this day. These establishments were a hotbed of political discourse
    - especially in relation to republican views about the state of the monarchy in
    the UK. So the coffee was an incidental part of the story – merely a conduit
    for enabling gatherings of people from all walks of life to talk. Where’s the
    difference between this and the well-known brand position of Starbucks as the
    ‘third place’ as originally outlined by Ray Oldenburg in the 1970s?

    Starbucks really did, was re-discover the original story of how coffee can play
    a part in bringing people together. They applied a modern context to enable a
    product that had been commoditised (coffee as an instant, freeze-dried hot
    drink) to an experience that enriched the original story to incorporate the
    provenance of the drink itself. So the coffee and the experience helped lift
    people out of their humdrum lives. It may not have been about challenging the
    monarchy – but it certainly was (and remains) about challenging convention. So
    much so, that this is now the norm. In summary, Starbucks challenged both the
    perceptions of the drink and people’s behaviour when drinking it. The rest (as
    well as what went before) is indeed history.

  • Louise Burke

    people’? The job of marketing is to persuade people. For some people,
    ‘challenge’ might be a good way of engaging them, but for most I think you’re
    far more likely to set up resistance to your message. Far better to work out
    first what the underlying values, beliefs and motivations of a person are and
    then talk to them in a way that they find engaging, rather than challenging.


    At Persuasion Engines we start
    out with those underlying ‘mindsets’ as you’ve very usefully described them and
    then work out how to amend the message to be most engaging.


    course, I found your article challenging enough to respond, rather than
    disengage, so I for one am one of those for whom your ‘challenge them’ message
    works :-)

    • Neil Fox

      Hi Louise – thanks for the comments.

      Of course, there
      is a difference between challenging behaviour and the subsequent activity
      required to change it. However, lifting people from their day to day inertia is
      a vital component of the process – Jean-Marie Dru has written extensively on
      disruption and his network has many famous examples of doing just that.

      The difference
      now is that this thinking cannot be isolated nor at arm’s length. So there is a
      sequence to behaviour change – from breaking through this inertia on to
      allowing persuasion to be effective. These are two components of the same
      strategy – where the skill sets of advertising, direct marketing and digital
      marketing must emanate from the same nucleus. Think how much more difficult it
      is to hit a ball lying on the ground than a ball floating gently in mid-air…

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