If, like me, you thought that June 21st, 2021 would signal the end of all restrictions and a cry of “They think it’s all over; it is now!” then you may be disappointed. I say this because last week, just before the Bank Holiday weekend the Government Cabinet Office quietly announced a new contract for the provision of Covid 19 Media Buying Services.
Slipped out surreptitiously on the Friday before a Bank Holiday, what is disturbing about this announcement is that not only is it for an eye watering £320 million, but it started on 1st April 2021 and ends on 31st March 2022. That’s nine months after the supposed ‘end’ of all restrictions in the UK.
Which begs the question, what is this contract for and what Covid 19 narrative will be pushed over the remainder of the year?
As I write this, yesterday saw the lowest Covid 19 deaths figure since the start of the pandemic, with just one person losing their life, yet we are still under the harshest restrictions to personal freedom in the UK since the second world war.
The mainstream media are urging Boris Johnson to open up the country, and to go with data, which looks good at the moment, and not dates. The calls to open up the country again are from both sides of the political spectrum, with serious doubts raised over the ‘temporary’ powers that have been granted to Parliament.
Yet amongst all of this we are still seeing record levels of Covid 19 advertising across every aspect of the media. We may have seen the back of the scaremongering advertising which we covered here and here, but even today, the Government are still running advertisements warning us that 1 in 3 people may be spreading the virus, when their own figures demonstrably prove this to be false.
So, if the virus is on the retreat in the UK, and over 34 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine and on yesterday’s figures, the percentage of positive tests (not infections mind) to tests administered was 0.0015% on over a million samples given, where is the new threat? More importantly, what aspect of our lives or behaviours will require that much money to communicate with us over the coming year?
The Government managed to spend over £180 million in Covid 19 advertising in 2020 and the new contract is for almost double that amount.
Seriously? We had blanket coverage across every media form and outlet over the past year, with more spent in a year on this than would normally be spent in a decade on public health advertising. And it’s definitely worked as the general public are scared stiff of a virus which statistically kills less than 1% of those it infects.
The new contract, under procurement reference CCCS21A03, is for almost a third of a million pounds and one wonders what, exactly, that is supposed to buy? The formal answer is Advertising services – 79341000 and Radio and television services – 92200000, as that is what is on the contract, which specifies it is for “Provision of Media buying services for COVID 19 campaigns.”
The deal went to OMD Group Ltd, part of Omnicom Media Group who have previously worked on the 2019/20 Coronavirus Government campaigns via Manning Gottlieb OMD. And yet we have no ideas what this money is for, how it has been allocated and what it is intended to be used for. Without Parliamentary scrutiny, we find ourselves in a position where the emergency powers granted to themselves in March 2020 appear to have been used to create a contract which is shrouded in mystery. Even more mysterious is how the first contract, worth £119 million, was agreed three weeks before we went into the first lockdown in March 2020.
There are definitely questions to be asked around this, as well as the part that most people struggle to comprehend, which is on top of the sheer scale of our money being used for this, why is there any need for further media buying campaigns for Covid 19 campaigns? What can they possibly tell us that we don’t already know and more importantly, if we are on an ‘irreversible roadmap’ out of restrictions, why is this necessary at all?
Even if someone can come up with a coherent reason for the additional communications spend, there needs to be some clarity around why this extends long after the need for it should have been removed. Or is there something we’ve not been told?
To put all this in context, the Government spent £46 million on advertising “Get Ready for Brexit” in 2019 and at the time, this was apparently the biggest direct advertising spend by the Government since World War Two. Coronavirus spending has already topped £180 million and with the new contract for £320 million it will have spent, by the middle of 2022, £500 million on Coronavirus advertising.
This amount of money has already distorted the UK advertising market, with the Government becoming the largest spender across many media channels in 2020, but whatever you think of the advertising so far, the big question is, what are they gearing up for next and why will it cost so much to tell us about it?