Page last updated at 23:51 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 00:51 UK

Safe sex campaign 'wasted money'

by Iain Mackenzie
BBC News

Want Respect?Use a condom artwork
The video was available as a free mobile phone download

A government safer sex campaign aimed at teenagers has been branded a "gimmicky" waste of taxpayers' money.

"Want respect? Use a condom" campaign included a specially-made drama series, called "Thmbnls" which cost £250,000.

But only 5,576 mobile phone users signed up for the videos, which meant it cost £45 per subscriber when set against the cost of the film.

The government said the campaign was a success and the number of subscribers had exceeded its own targets.

The campaign targeted young people using mobile phones and social networking websites.

The specially-commissioned series involved 22 one-minute-long episodes featuring a group of teens discussing relationships and attitudes to contraception.

The videos are available as a free mobile download to users who subscribe through

'Gimmicky marketing'

Official figures, obtained using a Freedom of Information request, show 5,576 people had signed up for the service in the four months since it launched.

Set against the price of producing Thmbnls, the cost per subscriber works-out at around £45.

Episodes are also posted on Youtube, but by late May, some had received fewer than 20 views.

Susie Squire from the Taxpayers' Alliance said: "Too often the government engages with gimmicky marketing and gimmicky advertising because they think they are going to reach a new audience.

We would still expect government departments to take a step back from the more sort-of "let's get a viral out there" risky approach.

Toby Beresford

"I think when it comes to spending taxpayers' money, particularly on healthcare issues, they should be going for the most effective approach, not the most fashionable."

In the past year, the government's spending on digital media increased by 57% to £35m.

Some experts question whether the money is being used wisely.

Toby Beresford, commercial director of London-based agency Nudge, told BBC News: "With quarter of a million pounds, I'd be looking at least half a million people to sign-up, to engage with that campaign.

"We see social media marketing as still a high risk marketing area. You can get massive uplift and massive success.

"However those are still the minority of social media campaigns. We would still expect government departments to take a step back from the more sort-of "let's get a viral out there" risky approach."

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "The Thmbnls project was designed as a pilot to test an innovative approach to using personal media, in this case mobile phone technology, in delivering messages to notoriously hard to reach audiences."

The spokesman said the government would be carrying out a project evaluation looking at the impact of Thmbnls, but said the 5,576 subscribers exceeded its own target.

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