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Superman Vs Nick O'Teen (1981)


Main image of Superman Vs Nick O'Teen (1981)
DirectorEric Goldberg
Production CompaniesRichard Williams Animation Ltd
 Saatchi & Saatchi
SponsorHealth Education Council

In 1980 the government earmarked £1 million for an anti-smoking campaign directed at children as a response to official reports which showed that around a third of Britain's 18 million adult smokers began smoking before they were 9 years old.

Devised by the Health Education Council's (HEC) publicity unit, the comic-strip campaign aimed at the 7-11 age group comprised three TV fillers released across three years. There was a wider publicity scheme which encouraged children to send off for a Superman Versus Nick O'Teen pack which included posters, comics, certificates and badges. The first filler was transmitted on Boxing Day 1980 and by the end of February 200,000 children had requested the pack. By the time the campaign ended in 1982, nearly one in ten of Britain's children had sent off for the packs.

Superman was no stranger to commercial promotional work, having previously endorsed brands such as Kelloggs and Renault. But the character's rightsholders in New York were very particular about his public portrayal and their list of conditions included the demand that Superman's belt loops should be made smaller. Overseen by Saatchi and Saatchi, the ads were expertly executed by animator Eric Goldberg for Richard Williams Animation. Having started out with Williams in the early 1970s, Goldberg steadily progressed through the ranks of animation and became best known for his work on Walt Disney features including Pocahontas (US, 1995) and Hercules (US, 1997).

The campaign concept was to give non-smoking a positive image, rather than admonishing children for smoking. It was feared that even the involvement of schools might undermine this objective, though this proved ungrounded. Fulfilling this remit, the cleverly devised campaign invites children to align themselves with their favourite superhero's mission, that is, to rid the streets of the prevalent menace, Nick O'Teen (especially designed for the HEC's non-smoking publicity) who is hell-bent on luring innocent children into cigarette smoking.

One year after the campaign had ended market research found that 73% of the 500 children interviewed recalled the ads, of which 86% of associated the ads with non-smoking. As well as striking a chord with its target audience at home, the campaign also provoked international interest and was requested by 15 countries.

Despite all the good work the villainous Nick O'Teen was not stamped out for good and even today his 'venomous vapour' can sometimes be detected around bike-sheds and playgrounds...

Katy McGahan

Many of the facts included above were taken indebted to the following source:

Jacob, Michael, Health Education Journal, Vol 44, No1, 1985, 'Superman Versus Nick O'Teen - a Children's Anti-smoking Campaign'.

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