Singing pills front £2m Public Health England campaign to tackle antibiotic resistance

Public Health England today launches a major integrated campaign, entitled 'Keep Antibiotics Working', to warn people that taking antibiotics when they are not needed risks their personal health and that of humanity as a whole.

It is estimated that at least 5,000 deaths are caused every year in England because antibiotics no longer work for some infections - but patients still have a high expectation of being able to get them.

PHE's campaign kicks off today and lasts eight weeks - meaning it will coincide with the World Health Organization's World Antibiotic Awareness Week in mid-November. The campaign has four major segments: advertising, social media, media relations and resources for GPs.

PHE has timed the campaign to coincide with the launch of a report on how antibiotic resistance is increasing in different disease areas, which has been pitched as a news piece for a range of media. Doctor and TV presenter Chris van Tulleken will be used as a spokesman.

GPs will be given documents that can be given to patients listing actions they can take to help beat an infection without antibiotics, while surgeries, pharmacists and hospitals will be given leaflets reminding people antibiotics are not always needed.

The central piece of creative content is an animation, created by M&C Saatchi for use as a TV ad, in which anthropomorphic pills sing about the dangers of treating minor complaints with antibiotics. Total bought media budget is £2m. Outdoor advertising will include spaces near pharmacies, while social, radio and print media advertising will target older men and women, and parents.

'Not cost-cutting'

"It was a deliberate choice to make the messenger the antibiotics themselves rather than healthcare professionals as it avoided the risk that people thought reducing antibiotic use was a cost-cutting measure," a press release from Public Health England, distributed by its PR agency Freuds, said of the song in the TV ad.

This will also be spread across social media, with organisations like the Royal College of GPs and research charity the Wellcome Trust also pushing the campaign on their social channels.

The launch follows a pilot in the North West earlier this year in which both the number of people asking for antibiotics and the number of GPs prescribing them decreased.

PHE marketing director Sheila Mitchell said: "It was important that we strike a careful balance with the campaign; implementing a hard-hitting PR strategy that uses statistics to show the imminent danger of antibiotic resistance and balancing this with a consumer-friendly TV advert that uses the medium of song to make the point in an engaging and memorable way, with the hope that the catchy song gets the message stuck in people’s heads.

"We have carefully planned our media and are working with partners to ensure that we reach people at the relevant moment, when they are ill and more likely to request antibiotics."

Other recent Public Health England campaigns include Stoptober, Be Clear on Cancer, and Stay Well This Winter. The agency's PR account, held by Freuds, is currently under review, with the result to be announced by the month's end. Other agencies working on Keep Antibiotics Working are M&C Saatchi, 23Red, MEC, Carat and Kantar.

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