Thmbnls: The Government is Screwing with Your Money (Again)


I had to resist the urge to use the first post name that came to mind for this one, or it simply would have been “What the f*ck is the government thinking?” But then that would have been too vague, and probably applies to at least two baker’s dozens of its recent policies.

The reason for my gobsmackedness on this sunny Friday is the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ latest campaign to promote condom use amongst the youth.

I’ve seen my fair share of poor decisions in choosing agencies – whether it be PR, web development, online marketing or otherwise – but how on Dog’s green Earth they are managing to spend a budget of £4.6 million of our hard-earned near-valueless-now pounds on this campaign yet fail so miserably?

Some KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) for the data nerds in the house:

  • The campaign is composed of 22 episodes, of which 8 plus a trailer have been released at this point, so we’re roughly a third through the series
  • Their MySpace page has 555 friends at the time of writing, many of which appear to be the usual spammers & none of which appear to have left genuine comments
  • Their Facebook fan page has 38 fans, which ain’t an awful lot (Prior to The Register’s coverage, it had 15 friends which, as someone rightly pointed out, is less than Hitler has on FB)
  • Prior to The Register’s article, “Thmbnls had been mentioned on Twitter, but only 14 times and half of those were notifications about the launch”
  • The Reg asked for some download stats on the video, but was told “that they would look into it, but that it was unlikely such figures would be available” so let’s not mention the fact that there’s Google Analytics on every part of the site, mmkay?
  • I wonder if they even do enough tracking to see this pop into their reporting on Monday morning… If so, sorry to be pissing in your cornflakes but the hard truth needs to be heard sometimes.

On first glance, the quality of the video is reasonably professional – maybe too polished for its purpose? The characters are a bit tacky, but not half as cringing as I’d expected. So I suppose they get a B+ for effort on video production.

Where they fail with an F- is on the targetting, the distribution methods, the themes, the social media approach and well… just about everything else. I get the impression that the agency brought on board writes a great proposal document, thorough and detailed, the kind government suits really like to read. But they can’t tell their elbow from their ass when it comes to actually interacting with young people. Looking at the fake MySpace page, it’s just highly condescending to think that teenagers won’t mind being friends with a fake identity that’s trying to sneak a condom in their backpocket.

Oh and don’t get me started on the targetting & distribution channels. I work with two clients in mobile, I look at mobile stats on a daily basis, and I’m afraid the majority of phones used to browse the mobile web aren’t most suited for video distribution just yet. Sure it’s free to download the clips thanks to downloads being sender-paid rather than recipient-paid, but I’m not sure a large number of teens even have the appropriate phones to watch the 1-minute clips. And I really do hope they’ve got something better to do at 7pm on a Friday night.

There is also seemingly no effort to interact with the young people; Facebook & MySpace were used to dump video files on and left there. The MySpace account, for example, has not been logged in to for a week now. They seem to have forgotten that at the centre of any social media strategy, it’s critical to socialise with the community & be genuine, transparent and human.

When looking for a social media agency, it’s better to look for someone who WAS that tall when they started using social media, not someone who condescendingly says YOU were that tall when they started. The fact that an agency distributed educational CD-roms to career advisers in schools back in the 80’s does not make them the right person to run a campaign today. I certainly don’t want to downplay experience, but there’s a fine balance between being connected to the right social groups and having professional experience.

I simply wonder at what point the agencies involved in the PR, production & distribution of the campaign will look back and say “You know what, Nancy? I think we may have misjudged our audience!” After SXSW last year, one of my key takeaways after attending one of the teen panels was “that these kids are clever and pretty discerning, we need to give them a whole lot more credit than we (or I) currently do!” That penny hasn’t yet dropped for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, clearly!

What does this leave us with? Average content, a mediocre campaign and a Dog-awful hole in our pocket.

6 thoughts on “Thmbnls: The Government is Screwing with Your Money (Again)

  1. Les Borean

    I understand your criticisms of the ad campaign, but I see no example or ideas of what would be a good campaign. How would a good campaign be done?

    I don’t mean this as a challenge to you. I really am curious how a campaign would legitimately communicate with teens.

  2. sushi2

    I enjoyed reading your post too. But I am interested in what recommendations you would make for the ad campaign to be more effective. Thanks.

    ps Great blog. I found you through Liz@violetposey.

  3. Vero

    You’re both right – I did think about some recommendations, but as the post got longer, I forgot to add some suggestions.

    First and foremost, I would flip the funnel (to use a Seth Godin expression):

    Teens seem to be great content producers; look at YouTube and you’ll see how creative they can be. Focusing the campaign on encouraging them to take action and create videos that talk about what it’s like to be a teenager today; school, friendship, sex, drugs. Guide the conversation, give them themes to create voxpops about, but let them talk about the issues that matter to them. The right messages will bubble up to the surface eventually.

    Make them the real stars of the campaign rather than using actors. Pride in their micro-fame means they’ll be naturally and virally talking about it with friends, spreading the word more successfully than a single agency with limited time and resources can achieve.

    The tricky part is making the idea appealing enough to get the first few on board, but once they’re on, they can convince their peers to take part much better than any of us grownups ever could.

    This scares most marketing agencies as it requires handing the control over to the community; who knows what could happen! However, if the campaign is well-managed and nurtured, it could be more of a success than they’d ever dreamed of.

  4. Deano

    What! This is a great campaign. I also heard from an industry insider this only cost £400,000 and no where near £4.6 million.

    That budget is for the TV campaign which has nothing to do with the online.
    I think also it’s blatantly obvious that £4.6 million hasn’t been spent. Other wise you’d have seen it everywhere.
    It’s a fantastic piece of work and I think the fact the characters interact with you via text or phone call is genius. That’s making the audience the star of the show if you ask me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s