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Just what the doctor ordered: the best public health campaigns


By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

August 19, 2020 | 6 min read

As the UK government dismantles Public Health England in lieu of a new agency focused on preventing pandemics, The Drum looks back at the world's best public health campaigns from over the years.

The best public health ads from over the years

The best public health ads from over the years

The UK's health minister Matt Hancock yesterday (18 August) confirmed that Public Health England (PHE) was to be disbanded, announcing that Dido Harding, the Conservative peer who led England’s troubled track-and-trace system, will temporarily head up the new body called the 'National Institute for Health Protection'.

As the world continues to face the greatest public health challenge in recent history, the new agency will specifically deal with protecting the UK from pandemics. Here The Drum digs deep into the archives to uncover some of the most effective (and downright bonkers) public health ads from across the globe, including some work from the now-retired Public Health England.

NHS Health Scotland: Why Do You Keep On Running Boy

Created at the height of Britney Spears' career, this anti-smoking PSA parodies the pop star to relay the message that there is nothing 'smokin' about smoking. Set to a similar beat to 'Hit Me Baby One More Time', the spoof girl band 'Stinx' is seen turning men off by their smoking habits, asking them 'Why Do You Keep On Running Boy?'

NHS: Help Us, Help You - Get It Seen To by M&C Saatchi

To encourage more people to count on their pharmacist before consulting their GP, the National Health Service (NHS) commissioned a humourous ad that poked fun at overreactions to small ailments.

Taking a leaf out of exaggerated overblown movies reactions, 'Help Us, Help You - Get It Seen To' flicks through various movie genres - horror, romcom, and action - as a way to raise awareness of the availability of the free, private and confidential consultations that high street chemists offer.

Public Health England: Sugar Cube Invaders by M&C Saatchi

Since it first began in 2009, the PHE programme Change4Life has been helping families make small but significant improvements to their diet, including cutting calorie intake or encouraging the consumption of fruit and vegetables.

After PHE found children have already exceeded the maximum recommended sugar intake for an 18-year-old by the time they reach their tenth birthday, it spent £2.4m on a campaign in a bid to cut children's sugar consumption. With iconic animators Aardman Studios on board, 'Sugar Cube Invaders' illustrated the health harms associated with consuming too much sugar.

Ad Council: VD is For Everybody

From way back in 1969, 'VD is for Everybody' intended to raise awareness about venereal diseases such as gonorrhoea and syphilis. Created by the Ad Council, while it aimed to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual diseases, bizarrely, the way the PSA is presented makes it seem that catching one could make you rich and cool.

Health Education Council: Fly by Saatchi & Saatchi

Health Education Poster

Not holding anything back, this poster from the Health Education Council got its point across effectively: don't let flies land on your food. Fly-posted across the UK, this poster caused a whole generation to be obsessed with fly vomit.

Carson J Spencer Foundation and the Office of Suicide Prevention: Man Therapy by Cactus

Seemingly the brother of Will Ferrell's character in Anchorman, Dr. Rich Mahogamy is a moustachioed man at the centre of an interactive mental health campaign targeting men. 'Man Therapy' provides a place for men facing difficulties to go and confront their problems, rather than push them under the rug.

Created by the Denver-based ad agency Cactus, the PSA was made in collaboration with the Carson J Spencer Foundation and the Office of Suicide Prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The New Zealand Health Promotion Agency: Department of Lost Nights by FCB New Zealand

Debunking the myth that heavy drinking leads to an 'epic night,' this PSA captures the reality which is far less legendary. Created by FCB for the New Zealand Health Promotion Agency, the spot illustrates the tipping point when one drink sends you over the edge into the 'Department of Lost Nights.' It asks the crucial question: what is the point on an 'epic night' if you're too drunk to remember it?

Sesame Street: Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me: Brushy Brush

Racking up over 1.2bn YouTube views, 'Brushy Brush' was a highly effective oral health initiative from the Sesame Street folk. It starred famous faces, including Bruno Mars, Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman, who encouraged children to keep their teeth clean. Sesame Street revisited the viral song during the pandemic, updating the song to say the lyrics 'Washy Wash' to remind children to clean their hands regularly.

Metro Trains: Dumb Ways to Die by McCann Melbourne

Created by Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia, when Dumb Ways to Die appeared in 2012, it soon went viral, with millions sharing the railway safety PSA across social media.

Devised by ad agency McCann Melbourne, the animated video was criticised for trivialising serious injuries but garlanded with industry praise.

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