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At the end of March 2021, the VVU ran a campaign on social media to raise awareness of County Lines drug gangs. The target audience for the campaign was young people who were possibly on the periphery of getting involved in County Lines. These young people may have seen drug deals locally, have concerns about friends or watched their peers become involved with gangs.

The campaign execution consisted of a series of five short films as paid for social media adverts. The films used the real-life experience of Essex young people to tell the story of County Lines in Essex; the issues around gang culture, drug running, exploitation, and how to escape this lifestyle. All the adverts were designed to help the viewer understand the issue and signposted to the webpage to find out more.

The five films ran sequentially for a month-long period, across social media channels favoured and frequented by young people. They were also channels that could be segmented down to target just Essex young people i.e. YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook.

Prior to the campaign launch CHILDWISE were commissioned to carry out research across Essex schools measuring young people’s awareness of county lines. Then a second survey, post campaign measured any changes in their awareness, recall, and engagement with a view to capturing any attitudinal and behavioral changes that could potentially be attributed to exposure to the campaign.

While the post campaign research was underway a month-long period of corporate communication activity took place. This activity was aimed at stakeholders of the V&V Partnership rather than young people. This campaign phase included online and newsletter content, PR and social media across multiple channels owned by the Partnership.

The corporate activity was well received and due to amplification and support from partners had a large reach and visibility across greater Essex. Including:

  • 2879 unique views to during “corporate” period of activity
  • Over 17,500 impression on Twitter from @EssexVVU
  • Over 300 Engagements on Twitter with @EssexVVU
  • Broadcast pieces on Gateway FM and Global FM
  • Social media posts (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter) from partners including Essex PFCC, Essex Police, Southend on Sea Borough Council, Essex County Council, Thurrock Council, ESCB, ECVYS, Essex Youth Service, all Essex CCGs

Focusing on the paid for, targeted youth campaign, the individual performance of the five films (adverts) varied significantly e.g., “Introduction” had a view rate of nearly 50%, compared to resolution which was only 19%.

However, across the whole campaign the adverts received 2,444,894 impressions (appearances on social media feeds), with 593,724 views which is a 24.43% view rate.

A view rate of 24% for the ads is considered good. The view rate counts those watching more than ten seconds of an ad. This high benchmark was set by the VVU with the rational that if ten seconds had been consumed then some messaging would have been understood and digested by the viewer.

Usually, three seconds is the time elapsed on an ad to count as a view, while using this benchmark would have given the VVU a higher view rate it wasn’t felt this would be an accurate portrayal of numbers watching the ads.

While view rate was high, the click through rate to was low. The website received 2,437 unique hits during the paid for campaign, with 430 views of the full-length film (approx. 17% of the unique hits).  How to increase the website hits is something to consider for any further implementation.

Possible reasons for the low conversion rate could be:

  1. young people didn’t want to find out more about County Lines
  2. didn’t recognise the brand
  • the ad interrupted their social media viewing.

Looking at both the social media evaluation and Childwise evaluation, the best performing social media channels were Snap Chat and YouTube, (click through and audience recall) The targeting and positioning of ads on YouTube played a part in this success as we appeared on high profile gaming and music accounts.


Childwise Evaluation

The Childwise evaluation gives further insight into the visibility and impact of the campaign.

The advertising was seen by 30% of all 11–16-year-olds in Essex (31% boys and 29% girls) This is considered a good recall rate for an advertising campaign. Particularly one running over a short, concentrated time with no brand history.  As a comparable most campaigns running on Facebook achieve between four and 17% recall rate.

22% of young people said that they saw the adverts on YouTube which corresponds to the social media evaluation concluding YouTube was the best performing channel. This is not only because the adverts on YouTube were well targeted but also posted as un-skippable ads so the content had to be watched by the viewer.

Drilling down into the impact of the ads:

  • 35% of all surveyed said the ad made them want to learn more about County Lines
  • 41% of all surveyed said the ad taught them something they didn’t know
  • 34% of all surveyed said the ad was interesting and they wanted to know what happens next

The findings from this evaluation support there is further education needed with Essex young people to inform them about the dangers of County Lines and gang exploitation. However, it is promising that there is a desire amongst this audience to improve their knowledge on the subject matter.

Interestingly when questioned about their personal experience of County Lines (a description was provided) the results were encouraging that young people were aware of the risks and knew how to react if approached or worried.

There had not been much attitudinal shift between pre and post campaign, resulting in similar percentages, so for both pre and post campaign we can say that:

  • When prompted 88% of young people say they are confident they know the risks of County Lines
  • When prompted 77% would know where to go with concerns
  • When prompted 69% would recognise the signs if a friend was involved
  • When prompted 63% would know what to do if approached: walk away / tell someone

When asked the question “are you aware of County Lines happening in your area?” just one in five young people answered yes – comparable in both the 2020 and 2021 surveys. However, we know from Essex Police data that County Lines is a county wide problem, and while there are hot spots of criminal activity it undoubtably affects many Essex communities.

While some of the campaign results were promising – recall of the campaign, social media targeting and positive understanding of the impact of County Lines, we can conclude that there is more we can do through communications in our aim to increase awareness of County Lines and gangs with Essex young people. One campaign burst alone will not change behaviour, we need to reinforce and repeat the campaign messages to penetrate through the consciousness of our audience.


Next steps

To build on the past activity, and to increase reach we then reran the campaign in November with some amends based on past performance and the existing evaluation.

The November execution of the campaign ran on YouTube and Snap Chat (the two best performing channels) with new tailored ads. With a new creative for Instagram so the ad appeared as images in a story carousel as well as video – in  both stories and the news feed. This was to test what performed best and received the most engagement.

TikTok was trialled, although the lack of audience segmentation available on this platform meant the ads can’t target according to location. The decision to use this channel was based on the low cost of advertising versus the high number of young people on this platform. While the advert won’t just reach Essex young people the fact that County Lines is a UK wide issues legitimises the wider reach.

As well as social media, the November execution included Spotify – as an unskippable ad – responding to the findings from the post campaign survey that showed the YouTube unskippable ads were those the young people remembered most.

A short creative was also tested on the Global website and app. This advertising can be targeted to under 18s in Essex so only targets our chosen demographic.

The campaign ran for a month and its evaluation is coming soon. The results of this iteration of the campaign will be evaluated alongside existing evaluation so to inform future work.