Case study: Slashing the Stoptober budget backfired, PHE admits

A controversial decision to slash the amount spent on the Government's annual stop smoking campaign resulted in a sharp drop in awareness, health officials have admitted.

Cutting the budget for 'Stoptober' decreased campaign recognition and quit attempts, according to PHE

Public Health England’s evaluation of the 2017 Stoptober campaign, released to coincide with the start of this year’s campaign, revealed that a decision to cut the media budget from £3.1m in 2015 to £390,000 in 2016 forced a "radical rethink in media strategy and a digital-only approach was taken in contrast to the usual multi-channel approach in previous years".

It added: "As expected, the budget decrease resulted in reduced awareness of Stoptober (there was a reduction in campaign recognition from 71 per cent in 2015 to 48 per cent in 2016)."

Stoptober brand recognition fell from 80 per cent in 2015 to 67 per cent.

"A number of metrics indicated that people took less interest in the campaign; for example, there was a 70 per cent decline in online searches for Stoptober."

Attempts to stop smoking fell from 385,000 in 2015 to just 124,500 in 2016.

The negative impact on the campaign prompted an increased budget for last year’s Stoptober campaign, with the media budget increasing to £1.2m and enabling the reintroduction of TV and radio advertising.

The 2017 campaign stressed the importance of having help to give up smoking rather than going it alone, with PHE including e-cigarettes in its advertising for the first time.

Last year’s campaign aimed to recapture some of the ground lost in 2016, setting targets such as 75 per cent brand awareness and 16 per cent reported quit attempts by smokers.

"The Stoptober 2017 campaign performed well; in line with the increased spend. The campaign met or exceeded all of the key campaign targets for brand awareness, quit attempts and sustained quit attempts," according to the evaluation.

A new partnership with the Independent British Vape Trade Association saw Stoptober promoted across 600 vape shops.

In addition, 30 football clubs across the Premier League, Championship, League One, Two and the Conference supported the campaign, with activities such as match day big screen advertising and PA announcements resulting in a total potential reach of more than 42 million football fans.

However, the TV advert used in the 2017 campaign tried to communicate too much, it said.

"The campaign strategy was developed to showcase the breadth of support available for smokers to help them quit, from nicotine replacement therapy to e-cigarettes, face-to-face support and the Stoptober app. This meant that there was a lot to communicate in a 30-second TV advert. As a result, the audience were not clear about what the key message of the advert was, with just over a quarter saying that they were ‘not sure’."

The report added: "In 2018 we will simplify the advertising, reducing the number of messages to strengthen message comprehension. We will also focus on communicating the importance of support to smokers, as we know it increases the effectiveness of quit attempts."

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