How behavioural theory and social media influenced Public Health England's 'One You'

One You: Public Health England's personalised campaign targeting 40-60 year olds
One You: Public Health England's personalised campaign targeting 40-60 year olds

This month saw the launch of Public Health England's One You campaign, a major new initiative that puts the spotlight on adult health, writes Jane Asscher, CEO and Founding Partner at 23red, and co-author of the Change4Life strategy.

It’s a campaign motivated in part by the need to reduce the £11bn we spend each year, via the NHS, treating avoidable illness and disease.

It’s six years since the Department of Health launched Change4Life, starting its long-standing crusade against childhood obesity. 

Both brands have a clear aim – to enable and encourage people to make better choices about health. But the world today is very different.

It is almost compulsory today to talk about behavioural theory as part of a campaign strategy, and its teachings are evident in what we have seen to date of One You.

When Change4Life was developed, the Cabinet Office’s behavioural policy framework, MINDSPACE, was yet to launch, and the credible weaving of nudge type theory into planning was yet to happen on a mass scale.

We are also used to the interplay between harm and hope in issues-based marketing, but the speed in which we offer hope has now been supercharged as we know that health harm messages by themselves are less likely to change behaviour, so hope messages need to be accelerated.

The rise of social media in issues marketing

So campaigns today, including One You, are designed to set up and resolve an issue far faster than when we launched Change4Life. This is something made possible by increased personalisation through digital media.

Our willingness (or in some cases, our obsession) with socialising our lives was present in 2010, but not on such a big scale - Snapchat and Instagram weren’t even words. When Change4Life launched the ‘How Are the Kids’ survey, it was much more about the offline, paper-based version that went to parents via schools, GP surgeries and partners.

At that time, it wasn’t an expectation that people would share with peers through social channels. Fast forward six years and that has completely changed.

The creation of campaigns that are shareable have gathered pace in the last few years. #ThisGirlCan wore its strategy on its sleeve and to great effect, reportedly winning a quarter of a million social mentions in the first month.

It also developed a unique and highly sophisticated algorithm that enabled messages to be served in response to women sharing a moment of weakness (a #ThisGirlCan’tBeBothered moment perhaps) through social channels.

The debate about where the line is to be drawn is one that rages on, but it feels that this at least is a good use of technology steering us in a positive direction.

Local communities are still necessary for change

The Health and Social Care Act 2012, gave responsibility for health improvements to Local Authorities, a role which means that they have the responsibility and the appetite to talk to their own communities in ways specific to local need.  This has led to something of a re-emergence of communities as a force for change – on and offline.

When planning a national campaign, One You has a distinct advantage by starting out with local very clearly in mind.  Collaborating with Local Authorities, One You has a head start on engaging people with issues that really matter to them, and in providing solutions that are highly locally relevant.

Regardless of where people sit on the devolution argument, it is clear from the data that different areas of the country are differently challenged when it comes to health issues.

Therefore the ability to localise is essential, and an area in which the government appears to be leading the way and where only a few brands, so far, have followed. 

In many ways there are more similarities than differences between Change4Life and One You.

Both set out to make changing as easy as it can be by providing simple actions framed in a motivating way.

Both, too, draw heavily on the power of the messenger, by working with partners. And both are based on smart insights about human behaviour, played back to change that behavior.

So what difference has six years made? The fact that we now know more, and apply more behavioural-based thinking means we can be more effective, we can prompt people to take better actions, sooner. People sharing and being comfortable with that sharing shaping their online experience, means we can more accurately target people right at that moment of influence.

If we are driven to be more locally minded, more community-centric, it means we can be increasingly relevant to those that we desperately need to influence.

Combined, this should mean that we can bring about more sustained change, faster. And given the huge task that campaigns like One You and Change4Life face, we all very much hope that it does. 

Jane co-authored the Change4Life strategy and continues to be involved as part of the strategic leadership group with both Change4Life and now One You.

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