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Stoptober’s ‘growing success’ explained 

Well, that was odd.

No sooner had I submitted a Freedom of Information request on Friday concerning the whereabouts of the Stoptober 2017 evaluation than said report was posted on the government website.

It probably wasn't in response to my email, which was sent at 11:19 in the morning, but it was a hell of a coincidence that the evaluation should be published on the same day.

That said, the 2016 evaluation was only published on 26 October 2017 (twelve months after the campaign ended) after an FOI and follow-up emails from me, so I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

More important, what does the evaluation tell us about Stoptober?

First, it explains why PHE is spinning Stoptober as a “growing success”. Compared to 2016, last year’s campaign was indeed an improvement if you accept the key performance indicators.

According to the 2017 evaluation there were several reasons for this but the principal one was money:

In 2016, competing priorities resulted in a significant media budget reduction (from £3.1 million in 2015 to £390,000 in 2016) for Stoptober. This in turn drove a radical rethink in media strategy and a digital only approach was taken in contrast to the usual multi-channel approach in previous years.

As expected, the budget decrease resulted in reduced awareness of Stoptober (there was a reduction in campaign recognition from 71% in 2015 to 48% in 2016). Additionally, and as a likely consequence of the digital only approach, Stoptober 2016 participants were slightly more upmarket (they were more likely to be socio-economic group ABC1 versus C2DE) and younger than in 2015.

As a result of the above, the 2017 Stoptober budget was increased. The total campaign budget was increased to £2.1 million, with the media budget increasing to £1.2 million. Traditional media, including TV and radio, were added back into the mix.

So with the media budget increased by over 300% in 2017 (compared to 2016), what happened? Well, according to PHE:

The Stoptober 2017 campaign performed well; in line with the increased spend. The campaign met or exceeded all of the key campaign targets for brand awareness, quit attempts and sustained quit attempts. The campaign also managed to reverse the trends in 2016 by rebalancing the demographic profile and re-engaging lapsed Stoptober participants.

Based on a tracking survey of 700 current and recent ex-smokers aged 16-74 in England, the 2017 evaluation states that:

  • quit attempts met the target of 16% of smokers and recent ex-smokers reporting a quit attempt as a result of Stoptober
  • sustained quit attempts (% smokers and recent ex-smokers reporting still not smoking after one month) increased from 6% in 2016 to 8% in 2017.

That, then, explains the "growing success" of Stoptober. Take the worst year ever (2016), increase the budget by 300%, reverse the trends set the previous year, and job's a good 'un.

But that's not all. According to PHE there's another, equally important, indicator of success - brand recognition and campaign awareness:

Reflecting the increased spend and reintroduction of traditional media into the strategy, Stoptober brand recognition was 76%, meeting the target of 75% and improving on the 2016 result of 67%. This brought brand awareness back to similar levels to 2015, where awareness reached 80%.

Campaign awareness also improved compared to 2016. 6 in 10 smokers and recent ex-smokers (58%) recognised at least one element of Stoptober 2017 campaign activity, up from 5 in 10 (48%) in 2016.

That, I think, gets to the heart of Stoptober. It's as much about brand recognition and campaign awareness as it is about quit smoking attempts.

In other words it's a marketing exercise and the main beneficiaries are not smokers who want to quit but the PR and advertising agencies who pick up the media spend, up to £1.2 million in 2017.

One thing that should perhaps concern PHE is something I observed on Twitter yesterday. With the arrival of yet another public health campaign, SoberOctober, some people seem to be confusing Stoptober for an alcohol-focussed initiative.

How's that for campaign awareness?!

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Reader Comments (2)

Oh dear! That'll upset the Stoptober lot. I always thought it was a bad idea to have two Prohibitionist campaigns in the same month. Perhaps next year they'll join forces and we'll have "Stop Sober October." Now, that would be a campaign I could wholeheartedly support!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 at 1:54 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Two competing scams at once. Looks like the lifestyle control grifters are competing for the spoils of their persecution and quest for prohibition and totalitarian social control.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 at 18:09 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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