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How Public Health England’s Biggest Campaign in 12 Years Wants to Help People “Reset their Health”

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PHE marketing director Sheila Mitchell tells LBB’s Alex Reeves about the priorities that went into making sure the ‘Better Health’ campaign reached those who most need it

How Public Health England’s Biggest Campaign in 12 Years Wants to Help People “Reset their Health”
Last month, Public Health England (PHE) launched a new brand and campaign, ‘Better Health’. It was a mammoth undertaking for the executive agency – its biggest campaign since the launch of Change4Life in 2008.

Developed quickly in the face of a challenging historical moment, the aim is to tackle the nation’s obesity crisis and reduce people’s risk of becoming seriously ill from diseases, including Covid-19.

A new TV ad and PR film are among a suite of assets designed to target the campaign audience, with special care taken to reach South Asian, Black African and Caribbean communities in England.

To achieve that, PHE drew on cross-agency collaboration between M&C Saatchi, Wavemaker, freuds, Multicultural Marketing Consultancy, 23red, Manning Gottlieb, Flipside and a coalition of major brands.

The task was huge, and Sheila Mitchell, marketing director at Public Health England, knew that the campaign’s ambition needed to match that. “The campaign’s impact is driven by the significance of the issue it is tackling,” she says. The reality at the route of the campaign is that nearly two thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity and that this weight builds up slowly over time as a result of modern day living. “So, it’s only fitting that the campaign’s reach reflects this to ensure that we can support those looking to live healthier lives.”

Gaining weight is often a gradual process, but this extra weight causes pressure to build up around vital organs, making it harder for the body to fight against diseases like cancer, heart disease and now Covid-19. “The impetus for the Better Health campaign is to give people support and guidance for anyone who wants to take that first step on their weight loss journey,” says Sheila


To make sure people across England knew this help was there for them, PHE devised a marketing strategy based on high-impact broadcast activity across TV and VOD, with a 60-second TV ad, building up to a “full package” of radio, digital and out of home advertising and content across social media. This includes large format out of home, radio, social, and digital homepage takeovers, as well as extensive national and regional PR and partnerships activity from freuds and 23Red to further amplify the campaign launch. The large scale activity is also being coupled with targeted and upweighted media to reach more vulnerable groups.

There was a delicate balance to strike when it came to how this key message came across. Keen to deliver helpful messages that could support the public without nanny-state finger wagging required creative finesse. “It was important for the campaign to be inspiring and motivational in tone but also to land the health harms message of how being overweight or obese can increase your risk of serious illness, including Covid-19,” says Sheila. “To do this, we deployed a sophisticated blend of marketing disciplines, which all complement each other, to reach and rally a significant tranche of the general population to have what we hope will be a real lasting impact.”

Creatively, Sheila and her team wanted the agencies they worked with to focus on energy and positivity and, crucially, to feature a diverse cast of real people “to encourage all adults to get up and have a go at making simple changes which can lead to a healthier lifestyle.” 


The way that PHE’s specific strategy for public health guided the campaign meant some unusual creative and casting considerations had to be made. “It was important that each person’s BMI was accurately displayed in line with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) parameters,” says Sheila, “as a key message for the film is that ensuring that your BMI is within a healthy range often results in lessening health risks, particularly from illnesses such as Covid-19.  We also implemented a series of measures to ensure that they were happy with their BMI being shown on screen, including briefings, regular check-ins and ensuring they had seen the film prior to launch. 

“In addition, it was important for us that the film was evidence-based and that we could show people what happens inside the body of someone who is overweight or living with obesity. We know that extra weight causes pressure to build up around our vital organs making it more difficult for the lungs to get oxygen around the body. Using short, informative animations and films are an excellent way to engage and educate adults and encourage them to ‘reset’ and introduce healthy lifestyle changes.”

To help reach the diverse audiences in England, the campaign was also designed to specifically target BAME groups that have higher rates of obesity and increased rates of contracting and dying of Covid-19 - this includes South Asians, Black Africans and Caribbeans.

To achieve this, PHE specifically upweighted its spend towards these communities as well as ensuring its advertising appears in a range of channels, radio stations and publications that are most likely to be consumed by at risk communities. The creative also aims to be representative of the English population and features people from all areas of the nation’s diverse society. Relevant advertising has even been translated into Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, Bengali, Arabic and Somali.

In addition, a new Better Health webpage has been created, which has brought together help and support which can help people take control of their health and lead healthier lifestyles. “We recognise that there’s no ‘one-size fits all’ approach when it comes to weight loss,” says Sheila, “and so we’ve brought together a range of tools on the webpage.”

These include the updated NHS Weight Loss Plan app – which helps provide people with the most up-to-date healthy eating and physical activity advice in a magazine format, enabling people to keep track of their calorie intake, portions of fruit and veg, physical activity level and teaches skills to prevent weight gain. Then there’s free ‘How Are You’ online health quiz, which will help adults reappraise their health and guide them to relevant support. Bundled in too are other proven tools and apps such as Couch to 5K, Active10, Food Scanner and Easy Meals.

Better Health has been created for all adults in England, but one particular priority was targeting adults in mid-life. “There are lots of small lifestyle changes that people can make which have a positive impact on their health and quality of life, both now and in the future,” says Sheila. “Better Health aims to show people that it’s never too late to take action and to benefit their health now and in later life.”

The campaign comes with a personal story at its heart in the form of Boris Johnson’s own experiences this year, which have led to his taking action on his health. “The road to recovery is high on the Government’s agenda and the prime minister has very publicly battled Covid-19 and has openly spoken about how he himself is hoping to make some lifestyle changes and lose weight,” says Sheila. “PHE’s Better Health campaign is closely aligned with the government’s strategy to tackle obesity. Coronavirus has affected the whole country; for almost every family, modern day life has had to fundamentally change. But it has also prompted many people to reflect and think more seriously about their health.

“Now, there is an opportunity for people to reset their health. The Better Health campaign will kick off by supporting individuals on their weight loss journey, but later down the line, the programme will also provide advice and support for quitting smoking and looking after your mental health.”


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LBB Editorial, Thu, 03 Sep 2020 14:03:04 GMT