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Campaign focus: Healthy weight for children
Timing: A five year campaign launched in November 2017
Organisations: Healthy Ireland, ​safefood, HSE, Department of Health, the Public Health Agency and partners
Channels: Outdoor, digital, social​​
Dates: November 2017 onwards
Campaign web site: and


Maintaining a healthy weight in children is a major health challenge on the island of Ireland. The START campaign is a five year, public awareness campaign from safefood in partnership with both Departments of Health, Healthy Ireland, the Health Service Executive and the Public Health Agency. The campaign aims to support and encourage parents to start making small daily changes to their children’s diet and lifestyle and in so doing, get them started on their way to a healthier life. The campaign aims to motivate and inspire parents to take the first step in improving their child’s health and to stick with those changes. START is one of the actions outlined in the Healthy Weight for Ireland 2016-2025 strategy (ROI) and continues the work outlined in the Fitter Futures for All 2012-2022 strategy (NI). 

Phase 9 – May 2021

The activity for May 2021 represented the ninth phase of the START campaign and focused on minimising the intake of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, or ‘Treats’ as they are commonly known.

Campaign development

With the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, the treats campaign message from 2019 was less suited to an environment of home-schooling, lockdowns and limited social interaction for children and families. Development of the campaign was informed by the latest public health research, input from campaign public health partners, one-to-one interviews with parents and an omnibus survey of parents on the island of Ireland. Fundamentally, the tone of the campaign was developed to reflect the current environmental context of Covid-19 on the island and the impact that had on lifestyles and health behaviours.

Qualitative interviews revealed that treats were a top concern for parents. They felt life was quite difficult and had noticed attitudinal and mood changes in the children for the worse.

Parents’ future outlook was hopeful, with May being viewed as a time for a fresh start. The most commonly reported negative behaviour by parents was the excessive consumption of treats and snacking. Parents felt they were less strict in relation to health behaviours like having too many treats, spending too much time on screens and lack of a bedtime routine, but stricter in relation to any behaviour that had a Covid impact e.g. meeting other children. Parents reported treats being used as a soothing device at home and to avoid conflict in the absence of any other distractions or rewards.

The quantitative research revealed that limiting screen time and keeping treats to a minimum were the two most difficult behaviours to deal with. Regarding treats, almost half (49%) of parents found it difficult to keep them to a minimum. Just under half (46%) of parents stated that the amount of treats their child had consumed since the start of the pandemic had increased. During campaign development, treating behaviour and screen time were discussed further with co-creation groups of parents. This work sought to understand what messages would resonate most with and how best to communicate the specific messages around treats to them. This work led to the development of a core theme for this phase of the campaign – “Let’s give treats a break”

This theme acknowledged what parents themselves had acknowledged; that with a gradual reopening and easing of public health restrictions, it was time to give treats a break and re-start those healthy habits that existed pre-pandemic. This theme was seen as both relevant and achievable to parents in the one-to-one interviews.

Communications activity

Television & Video On Demand

  • Timing: May 3rd to June 6th
  • The existing 30 second ‘Treats’ television advertisement was used for phase nine. The end voiceover and end frame were adapted to reflect the new tone and context for the campaign, while  reflecting those feelings and hopes expressed by parents during the interviews.

Radio & Digital Audio

  • A 40 second radio advertisement featured a Dad at home with children playing computer games while eating a bag of treats before dinner. As with the TV ad, this script contrasted the children’s demands for treats with their father’s inner thoughts as he considers whether to take the easy option (and give in to them) or stay strong and say no. Similar to the TV ad, he stays firm, reiterating to the children that they have all agreed to a plan of cutting back on treats especially before dinner. The radio ad ended, as with the TV, with the call to action and more ways to start are available on the campaign website.
  • Radio Stings – Three x 10 second radio sting ads were developed and used as short, informative tips to drive awareness of the START campaign. The stings featured the key message of taking a break from treats combined with a drive to the campaign website. The stings were run as part of radio media partnerships in ROI and NI.
  • Timing: 3rd May to June 6th

Out of home (OOH)

  • Out of home advertising comprised three formats: shopping trolley handle, shopping basket, digital poster (portrait).
  • The trolley handle and shopping basket formats featured the campaign call to action and were displayed on 6,000 trolley handles and 4,000 baskets in SuperValu stores. The digital poster was in portrait format and featured the mum and son from the TV ad. This was developed using the existing 2019 campaign poster with the updated text for this phase. This was displayed at 180 SuperValu and Asda retail sites and 40 Adshel advertising locations.
  • Timing: 10th May to 6th June

Digital Display

  • Programmatic display ads ran across top media sites, strategically selected for optimal exposure to our target audience including the Irish Independent, Belfast Telegraph, Sunday World and Mummypages.
  • The aim of the programmatic ads was to drive awareness while driving traffic to the campaign website through a funnel approach. The initial aim was to promote awareness, with follow-up to retarget this audience with a call to action to drive traffic to the website.


The Make A START website had 3 anchor pages to give parents advice and guidances to reduce treats in their children’s diet.

  1. Reducing treats: Gave steps to reducing the amount of treats children eat
  2. Healthy snacks: Explained the importance of healthy snacks and provided recipe videos and ideas.
  3. Parenting expert videos: Provided a series of videos featuring child psychologists and public health professionals talking about how to introduce changes and new behaviours

These pages were supported by guides on healthy eating, physical activity, sleep, reducing screen time and the best drinks for children.

Social media and Google Ads

  • A paid and organic social media campaign drove traffic and generated engagement across three main social media channels: Facebook (including Facebook START group), Twitter and Instagram. The campaign also featured on Pinterest and LinkedIn. Creative material and content was also shared by campaign partners on their own respective social media channels.

The social media campaign was delivered in two parts, which mirrored the digital display objectives:

  1. Awareness: to drive reach and engagement through a series of gifs and animated images.
  2. Call to action: to retarget audiences with specific messaging around reducing treats, healthier snack options and the advice from experts  

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