Help young people create a healthy future through advertising

Media Smart's new initiative challenges young people to create a campaign based on Veg Power's 'Eat them to defeat them'.

Recent days have pushed issues of public health right to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Much of the debate around Covid-19 has been around how we communicate matters surrounding health and well-being to the population – giving them the advice they need in the most effective way possible. Education has also been a crucial part of discussions around the outbreak, begging the question of how we can carry on educating our young people during these times.

Media Smart is UK advertising’s non-profit education programme. We have just launched a brand new creative careers resource based on ITV and Veg Power’s "Eat them to defeat them" advertising campaign to encourage healthier eating among secondary-school-age students.

The reality of this has really sunk in for me in recent days – my son’s nursery closed Friday night and a quick search for "home schooling" materials on Amazon flagged that a lot of these are already sold out. But there are many brilliant, free online educational resources available for teachers, parents and guardians facing the challenge of educating children in isolation and virtually. This is why we at Media Smart decided to go ahead with the launch of our latest media and digital literacy project.

Set up in 2002, Media Smart’s core purpose is to ensure young people in the UK can confidently navigate the media they consume, including being able to identify, interpret and critically evaluate all forms of advertising. We are funded by the industry and create free media and digital literacy resources for teachers, parents and youth organisations working with seven- to 16-year-olds. Recent education resources have focused on social media, digital advertising, influencer marketing and body image – the latter supported by the Government Equalities Office.

The latest film-based resource takes students behind the scenes at Adam & Eve/DDB, one of the UK’s leading agencies, to show them how the ad was created while also encouraging them to consider a career in advertising. The work is backed by funding and media inventory support from 30 organisations across the ad industry, including ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.

The aim is to raise young people’s interest in creative careers by challenging them to design an entertaining, persuasive public-health campaign that encourages their teenage peers to eat more vegetables. Following a brief set by NHS doctor and television presenter Ranj Singh, students are guided through the steps an ad agency would follow, focusing on what motivates and interests their target audience. They then use this insight to develop an idea for an ad that stands out, with students pitching against teams of fellow classmates to come up with the winning creative concept. The teaching materials include interviews with the team who created the original ad, whose mission was to encourage primary-age children to eat more vegetables – no small task, I hear you say! 

The original campaign is a groundbreaking £10m media alliance with ITV, Channel 4 and Sky to improve children’s physical health over the next three years. "Eat them to defeat them" in 2019 saw more than 650,000 children eating more vegetables and 18 million more units of vegetables sold – enough for an extra portion of vegetables on every family dinner table in the UK for each week of the campaign. So, while it has had an undoubted impact on primary-school-age children, we recognised the need to help extend its reach to an older audience. 

Media Smart’s education resources are practical and adaptable, and it looks likely that the events of recent days will mean that home schooling and distance learning may become the norm for a while. We have always had a strong online and film-based emphasis – which will allow teachers, students and parents to access the teaching materials from home. 

Beyond the immediate future, we also need to equip our children for future careers. In 2018 (the latest year figures are available), the creative industries supported 3.2 million jobs – a number that increased by 81,000 that year alone. We don’t know what the effects of Covid-19 will be on our jobs market, but even before this economic changes and developments in automation and other technologies meant that the jobs market will be evolving substantially in the coming years. We hope that the creative industries will continue to offer rewarding and inspiring job opportunities into the future and any way we can encourage children to look for future career options in the sector should be encouraged.

Even in the most straitened and unexpected of circumstances, encouraging healthy lifestyles and eating habits among young people is important, and we hope this resource from Media Smart will help. Also, in times of uncertainty and anxiety for young people, it’s no bad thing to get them excited about the future and their many career options. I would urge any colleagues across the education or advertising industries to get in touch to learn more about our work.

Rachel Barber-Mack is director at Media Smart

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