‘Fails’ campaign drives home alcohol fail message for 11 – 14 year olds

Alcohol Campaign Fail Banner

Alcohol Campaign Fail Banner

Up and down the country, one of the biggest health and financial costs to the economy is alcohol. This is no different in Staffordshire where we’re clear that to change behaviour, we need to intervene earlier than ever before.

At the same time, one of the biggest traditional challenges for councils is communicating with so called ‘hard to reach’ audiences. This can include young people who quite often would run a mile from people perceived as being ‘in authority’ – never mind a ‘stuffy council’. This is particularly true when it comes to lifestyle issues such as alcohol.

Recent blog posts have also talked about how we need to make sure we go to where the audiences are and walk in their shoes (see Dan Slee’s Create content without boundaries as one example).

We felt the same about this and so last summer, we decided to take a different approach in Staffordshire to target these issues, after asking young people directly about their drinking habits and what ways they like to communicate.

This work told us that there was a big difference between how often young people are actually drinking and how much and how often they think their peers are drinking.

We also knew from national statistics that children who had their first drink before the age of 10 sadly are considerably more likely to become a frequent drinker (once a week or more frequently).

It was clear we needed to be smarter to appeal to our target age group, who said friends and social media are the top ways for them to find out information and news.

So working with a variety of partners including Police, Fire and district councils, we set about developing with 30 young people an ‘alcohol fails’ campaign designed for other 11-14 year olds in Staffordshire.


‘Fail’ is a popular internet slang for short videos depicting situations with unfortunate outcomes and are used to point out a person’s mistake – a fail. They’ve got their own dedicated channel on You Tube that gets 1,000s of views on a daily basis and are extremely popular with young people.

One of most well-known fail virals is the Dumb Ways to Die public announcement ad campaign by Metro Trains Melbourne which provided inspiration for the campaign.

Using a leading Staffordshire based animation studio, we worked with young people to develop a series of animated videos with the aim of delaying drinking within that age range and to promote behaviour change towards alcohol.

The animations were based on simple alcohol related stories – future prospects, social life, education – followed by a clear fail message.

Their aim was to engage with young people in an appealing way so that they could easily see why drinking alcohol is a ‘fail’ but in a way that didn’t preach.

The style adopted is reminiscent of  retro ‘8BIT’ style computer graphics and music, which we knew to be extremely popular with 11 – 14 year olds and the animations, while not branded, had signposting to how to see more and access further resources. In designing the characters and scenarios the young people drew on their experience of popular video and online gaming.

It was a risk and at times, challenging but the young people who were involved were really enthusiastic. They had great ideas and really helped us to build something that could appeal to other young people.

We took a multi-platform approach and the resulting animations and visuals were shared on-line via the social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and You Tube, young people being encouraged to share the fails with their peers (with parent’s permission if they were under 13).

This was supported by targeted activity in venues popular with young people, including the animations being shown at cinemas in the county before blockbuster 12 rated movies. And for free – a real coup for us.  Thanks to Comms2point0 who helped us crowd source clarity from Matt Bond and others on whether we needed British Broadcasting Film certification for the animations. That saved us £2,000 in the end so wasn’t something to be sniffed at.

Large visually cut out stands and counter top dispensers were created, depicting characters from the animations, and placed in video shops, cafes and restaurants and bowling alleys with postcards signposting to a bespoke styled website.

We also managed to get the animations shown at popular age appropriate Christmas ‘light switch on’ events, and at ‘nappy nights’ – targeted youth events at nightclubs in the county.  We also held a series of special town centre events, taking the message directly to young people in places where they regularly hang out.

It was a really different approach and it wasn’t all plain sailing. We also had quite a few ups and downs along the way. One of the toughest challenges was how did we evaluate the campaign and to be honest Public Health England who I asked if we could work with to agree a suitable behaviour change evaluation, weren’t much help. Their view was that the only true measure was the impact on alcohol sales. Given that the campaign was targeted at 11- 14 year olds, this didn’t really correlate. We’ve got some measures that we think can work now but there is probably room for improvement.

But we did secure funding from the IEWM social media ideas fund (part of the Best by WM social media white paper initiative) which really helped as it gave us breathing space to try out things we’d not tried before. It was still low budget overall coming in at £10K which the service paid for.

So far the results are making a difference.

To date, there have been 1,319 views on You Tube, 1,000 visitors to the blogging site which also includes step-by-step updates on producing the animations, and 1,881 likes on Facebook.

Out of 250 young people across the county that we asked about the campaign, 89% said they would share the animation fails and many of them had. And even more importantly for us, 89% also said they would think twice before drinking alcohol as a result of the campaign.

But for me, it’s summed up best by James Skidmore aged 11 from Heath Hayes near Cannock who worked on the ‘Disco Fail’ video.

He said:

“I went to a workshop, and helped design one of the characters in the disco video. It’s really good to be able to watch one of your creations come to life, and I feel proud that my ideas have been used. I hope these videos will stop the next generation of children from drinking and ruining their lives, and it is nice to feel I have helped to make a difference.”

You can see the videos at: www.alcoholfails.co.uk on youtube athttp://www.youtube.com/alcoholfails or on facebook at:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alcohol-Fails/553267381421635?fref=ts

There is also a behind the scenes documentary about making the fails including showing how all the animations and sounds were made by Tentacle. It’s really fascinating to see. Unfortunately it also includes really bad footage of me looking like a 1970’s over enthusiastic tv presenter (as a colleague described me) but hey I can live with that for a campaign that I’m really proud to have been part of, especially given the role young people played in making it happen.

We deliberately didn’t brand it so that it had more appeal to young people but similarly we want other councils to maybe take the approach and adapt it in their areas. If you’re keen to do this, do get in touch and let us know.

Finally, an appeal,  if you haven’t watched them yet, please do so and tell us what you think. Tweet me or leave me a comment below.

by Emma Rodgers

Staffordshire County Council

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