In 2004 the scientific committee of the government-backed Food Standards Agency (FSA) reviewed evidence of links between salt intake and health problems. It found that the average adult consumes 9.5g of salt a day – against a recommended daily intake of just 6g a day.
It also found that 75 per cent of salt intake is gained through processed foods. High blood pressure and strokes contribute to 170,000 deaths in the UK each year.
To raise awareness that eating too much salt significantly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. To encourage people to consider how much salt they eat and highlight how consumption can be reduced. To publicise the campaign website.
Strategy and Plan
The team developed a salt fact sheet highlighting possible story angles for long-lead time consumer media, and sent it out three months in advance of the campaign launch.
A launch press release illustrated the high level of salt consumed by the British public and the number of deaths caused by high blood pressure each year. Tailored press releases were produced using statistics specific to Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and different regions of England. Celebrity chefs such as Antony Worrall Thompson provided quotes supporting the campaign.
To maximise credibility, the FSA sought the endorsement of organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, The Stroke Association and the National Consumer Council.
A VNR was made available to national and regional broadcasters and ten food diaries were completed by a range of people to highlight how much salt they were ‘unknowingly’ eating in an average week.
Themed packs featuring campaign character Sid the Slug were delivered to London radio stations.
Measurement and Evaluation
In the three weeks after launch, there were 610 items of media coverage, including stories in all national newspapers, 13 pieces on national TV and around 200 radio items.
Case studies of people who had reduced their salt intake for health reasons, provided by The Stroke Association, featured in The Observer and the Daily Record as well as on GMTV.
Food diaries were placed exclusively with the News of the World’s Sunday Magazine and the Sunday Mirror. Coverage of the campaign appeared in more than 15 consumer media titles, including a one-page feature in Good Housekeeping and articles in Best, Woman’s Own, Men’s Health and Now.
In the first four weeks of the campaign, www.salt.gov.uk achieved 35,000 hits. Tracking research, before and after the campaign, found that 88 per cent of people agreed with the statement ‘too much salt is bad for your health’.
When asked why they thought too much salt was bad for their health,
46 per cent mentioned the connection between high salt intake and heart disease – an increase of 13 per cent during the campaign period. Forty-nine per cent of the target audience said they would try and reduce their salt consumption, up nine per cent during the campaign period.
News of the World health columnist Monica Grenfell says: ‘The brilliant PR team deserves praise. It had a real feel for the subject.’
James Wright, account director at Sinclair Mason, advises the National Blood Service on national campaigns
As with many public information campaigns there is an ethical question here about how hard you can push an issue. In some quarters it was felt that this campaign had overstepped the mark, including, and not surprisingly, from the Salt Manufacturers’ Association.
Yet it seems the comms team had done its homework on the likely response to the campaign and secured the moral high ground with third-party endorsement, which helped it to present a united front on the issue.
The campaign pushed at a door already ajar, because the health of the nation was already a highly topical issue with government and media.
The hard-hitting facts set the scene and the case-study approach allowed people to identify with the story.
Coverage captured a wide spectrum of media and I was particularly impressed with the number of regional radio items.
However, it is not clear as to whether all the coverage gained by the campaign was ‘on message’. Also, the FSA’s strategy had the danger of inviting sensationalist headlines, as I found with a quick cuttings search.
Nonetheless, this will have all served to stimulate debate and has certainly heightened people’s awareness of the danger of too much salt in their diet.