Case study: Stoptober 2020 overshadowed by Better Health branding, PHE admits

Recognition of the annual Stoptober campaign has fallen dramatically, Public Health England (PHE) has warned.

One of the campaign images used in the 2020 Stoptober campaign
One of the campaign images used in the 2020 Stoptober campaign

In its evaluation of the 2020 Stoptober campaign, PHE reveals the impact of last year’s decision to run the campaign under the umbrella branding of Better Health, its general behaviour-change campaign to promote healthy lifestyles.

“Stoptober was in its ninth year but was also brought under the new umbrella brand Better Health for the first time – it needed to feel fresh, exciting and part of the wider Better Health initiative,” it said.

However, the decision resulted in “lower” levels of campaign awareness and the “Stoptober brand became recessive to the new Better Health brand”.

Recognition of the Government’s flagship annual smoking cessation campaign was just 35 per cent in 2020 – far short of the 45 per cent target that had been set, and down from 65 per cent in 2019. 

Brand awareness also fell, from 54 per cent in 2019 to 40 per cent in 2020.

In addition, the use and awareness of Stoptober stop-smoking tools “significantly dropped in 2020”, with 30 per cent of those trying to quit doing so “with no Stoptober-related support”, compared to 10 per cent in 2019.

Back to basics

Despite the decline in awareness of Stoptober, the main messages and principles “continue to cut through” and “there were no signs of serious ‘wear out’ for the campaign”, according to the report.

Last year’s campaign marked a return to focusing on “making the connection between lung health and future protection from serious illness clear.”

As well as going back to basics in warning that smoking is bad for your health, it aimed to “harness the positive sense of community created by the pandemic to galvanise and support quitters”.

PR, digital, video on demand, radio and OOH were all used during the campaign, which had a media budget of £990,000 – slightly less than the £1m it had in 2019. Partners such as Amazon, Superdrug and Boots amplified the reach of the campaign.

The COVID-19 effect

A major difference last year was that the campaign was running during the coronavirus pandemic, which “affected all aspects of daily life”. The pandemic shifted “media, health and consumer landscapes, and the effect appears to be polarising”.

One in five people suffered from depression during the pandemic, according to the report. “The strong correlation between depression, anxiety and smoking means, for many, that their habit may have increased.” The “curbing of freedoms may have led to rejection of official messages”, it added. And on top of a “core of older ‘entrenched’ smokers, there was an increase in smoking among young adults”.


For all the challenges, one million smokers have quit the habit since the start of the pandemic. And the report shows how all campaign targets – with the exception of campaign recognition – were met. 

Twelve per cent of smokers attempted to give up; and four per cent made a “sustained” effort to kick the habit by giving up for at least four weeks. The total number of campaign actions – ranging from trying to quit to downloading the Stoptober app – reached 964,358; at the upper end of the target range of 799,794-999,774,964.

“The campaign performed well with the majority of campaign channels delivering as intended – despite a challenging media and COVID-19-dominated environment – and crucially with quit attempt and smoking action targets having all been met.”


However, the report warned: “Overall we appear to have a higher level of people attempting to quit but starting to smoke again.” It revealed that 65 per cent of ex-smokers took up the habit again last year, up from 54 per cent in 2019. “Smokers report that this relapse has been driven predominantly by stress,” it said. 

Looking forward to this year’s campaign, the report concluded: “In 2021 we will continue to build the Better Health brand but also draw strength from the historical value of the Stoptober brand.” 

And last month PRWeek revealed how a new infographic animation, devised by Freuds as part of this year’s campaign, celebrates the achievements of PHE’s Stoptober campaign over the past decade.

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