GUEST POST: How and why the ‘Don’t be a Dick’ public health campaign was created

It’s always good to hear the story behind amazing campaigns. As public health fight tooth and nail to get their message across the more direct route was adopted by Lincolnshire Resilience Forum. SHAUN GIBBONS communications manager of South Holland District Council explains how it emerged.

Hello, how are you?
Let’s be honest: framing a public health messaging campaign around calling someone out for acting a dick comes with a fair amount of risk. Calculated risk… but risk, nevertheless.

In these heightened, sensitive ‘age of panic’ times the ability for people to find offence in anything that they’ve seen or read online is a headache for anyone working in communications.

This becomes even more relevant when communicators are searching for new ways to say the same thing. Just how many ways are there to say, “Stay at home”, “Wash your hands”? (It must be noted here that UK Government really need to develop the “how” and “when” messaging and consider employing more of the “why” …something they’ve been criticised for in the past).

It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals

who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.


So why the dick?

Cutting through the social media noise and the ‘vanilla’ messaging (a colleague’s phrase, not mine) was Dick’s primary objective. And with nearly half a million views in the first few days of the campaign, this spiky little individual did just that.

Remember the why? Well, we wanted to root this campaign in a particular (give it some bollocks, you might say). Dick represents, according to a UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team survey, 8 per cent of people who are thought to be responsible for 60 per cent of the total transmission risk.

Put bluntly, Dick is a dick and his actions – and the inherent risks to everyone associated with him – need to be called out. And I believe that was done with a fair dose of humour which seemed to be appreciated by the vast majority who’ve shared and commenting on the campaign’s first
introductory post. Some are suggesting Channel 4’s The Last Leg parodied the campaign on its show last night.


Will this campaign change Dick’s behaviours?

Maybe, maybe not. Is Dick aware that his actions have consequences? Almost certainly. But does Dick know to what extent? I don’t think so, no. And if this campaign does nothing else it highlights the butterfly effect that even the smallest of behaviours can have a large affect.
But that’s enough about Dick.

What about Tom and Harriet?

These two heart-warming individuals represent those who continue to play their part in keeping the virus under control. These two need a voice and need to be championed for the sacrifices they’ve made. These are the majority who quietly go about their lives making a positive contribution to their communities. We need to hear more about the Tom and Harriet’s of this world. (Again, it’s worth noting that behavioural messaging lands much better when they are framed in a more positive sense rather than negative. Again, something the UK Government has been criticised for).

How did you manage to get this signed off?

Working in a multi-agency organisation with a number of instinctively command and control structures is often difficult and demanding, I won’t lie. As is the political dimension. But there’s three reasons why this campaign got off the ground.


Number 1: having a flexible communications strategy that said to partners: “Hey, if you don’t want to share our content, then that’s cool. We’re down with that. We understand you have your parameters and own audiences to consider. It’s all gravy.” All good content will stand on its own two feet.

Number 2: Gaining the trust of your team and those around you and being able to influence those you need to quickly, quietly and efficiently was key. I work with a fantastic group of individuals who know I’ve got their back and I know they’ve got mine. So, if you’re going to tiptoe around a minefield be sure-footed and know where the bombs are buried.

Number 3: Trust your own instincts and hold the line. As I said earlier, it was a calculated risk. But my instincts told me there was a very good chance this would land well with the audience it was intended for. Yes, of course there was pressure for me to take it down and stop the campaign – and I respect those individuals and the organisations they represent who asked for that to happen. But I kept telling colleagues hold the line and it worked out.

So what’s next?

Let’s face it: this campaign won’t appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry…the curtain twitchers from number 7 down the road probably WILL find it either offensive or downmarket. But this campaign isn’t aimed at those. It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals
who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.


Stay safe and thanks for reading.

Shaun Gibbons is communications manager at South Holland District Council.

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