Deciding to join the police force means making a life-changing commitment to work unsociable hours and face danger, personal insult, rules and responsibility, as well as paperwork.

In 2000, perception of the police was also poor and declining. In fact, members of the public declared they had more faith in Coke, Asda and Chris Tarrant. As a consequence, the number of people applying to join the force was falling steadily.

The Home Office instigated the first national recruitment campaign for the police force. M&C Saatchi was briefed to help recruit 9000 police officers over three years.

Research indicated that while many people consider a career as a police officer, very few actually apply. The advertising had to force them to consider the prospect more actively and in detail. It also had to address the lack of respect for officers that was discouraging applications.

The agency took on the negative connotations of the police officer's job and developed the 'I couldn't. Could you?' theme. Executions featured well-known and respected public figures and actors, including Lennox Lewis, Bob Geldof, Patsy Palmer, Chris Bisson and Joan Bakewell, contemplating a challenging police work scenario before concluding that they couldn't do the job.

The idea was that even members of the public who decided not to apply to join the force would have to acknowledge the tough nature of the job, and have greater respect for the men and women in uniform.

The ads broke in August 2001 and produced a rapid turnaround in the number of police recruits, in turn resulting in an increase in the number of serving officers.

Although the country's 43 local police forces also continued to advertise for recruits, mainly using press, the use of distinct communications channels such as a dedicated web site - www.policecouldyou.co.uk - and call centre numbers enabled the impact of the national campaign's advertisements to be quantified.

More than 101,000 relevant enquiries and 66,346 applications requests were received by the police, which resulted in the recruitment of 5998 new officers.

The £15m cost of the first 20 months of the campaign has also improved respect for police officers among people who saw the ads and contributed to a 13% reduction in perceived levels of crime.

An advert that seeks to discourage and dissuade has helped drive recruitment and create improvements in attitudes toward the police.


Campaign: Could You?

Agency: M&C Saatchi

Client: The Home Office

Creative Director: Simon Dicketts

Art Director: Fergus Flemming

Copywriter: Simon Dicketts

Film Director: Kevin Thomas

Advertising Manager: Graham Hooper

Author: Richard Storey


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