THURSDAY 12 NOV 2009 12:03 PM


A spiky media, an unsympathetic public and a reluctant internal audience – in rebranding the UK government overseas aid programme, the Department for International Development had to navigate them all.

UK Aid arrived silently in July. Apart from a single UK Aid arrived silently in July. Apart from a single article on the BBC website, no one in the media noted the change, says Paul Mylrea, director of communications at the Department for International Development. And that, one suspects, was all part of the plan. Journalists love to put the knife into government departments. In these straitened times, a new brand strategy for DFID would have been red meat for the Daily Mail. Not that the money was flowing freely – early on, DFID took the decision to go in-house and use the Central Office of Information, rather than hire a branding agency. In fact, the total budget for the rebrand came to just £130,000.


UKAID logoThe new image, which supplements the existing DFID brand, is an attempt to give a higher profile to the UK government’s aid programme. It’s a profile which couldn’t get much lower. Spontaneous awareness of what DIFD stands for was 22%, says Mylrea. But fewer than 10% of people actually know what DFID does: “Our secretary of state, Douglas Alexander, describes DFID as Britain’s best kept secret.”

Yet, in the development industry, DFID is a force to reckon with. The UK is the fourth largest international donor in the world, and scoring on the efficiency index puts DFID way ahead of most European governments and many NGOs. It claims to pull 3 million people in the developing world out of poverty every year. Mylrea says: “We pioneered a more holistic approach. Don’t build a oneoff hospital or school, instead help a government to build a healthcare or education system which enables it to start a real relationship with its citizens.” And expenditure is increasing. Today it stands at 0.56% of GDP – the aim is to reach 0.7% - a goal which enjoys cross-party support.

But Mylrea says the general public are simply unaware of all this. At best, they may hear of some project, but there is very little awareness that there is a coherent programme steadily helping the Third World to develop. “If you ask people who funds overseas aid they will talk about celebrities and charities, not the government. And, if a project is jointly funded by DFID and Oxfam, people will only recall Oxfam. We needed an overarching brand to say, ‘This is your money. This is what we do with it. And this is what it is achieving.’”

The Parliamentary cross-party International Development Committee recognised the problem of awareness in its January and April meetings this year. But DFID civil servants had been probing it for several years. Part of the problem is that a significant part of the UK electorate doesn’t like the idea of aid anyway. A survey commissioned in 2007 divided the public into six groups ranging from disapproving rejectors (8%) who want a UK-first strategy and believe that corruption makes aid pointless, through insular sceptics (19%), distracted individuals (12%), family-first sympathisers (16%), interested mainstream (23%) and active enthusiasts (21%). Worryingly, the recession has shown an increase of roughly 6% in the naysayers.

DFID wants to focus on expanding the size of the three most positive groups.

Interestingly, levels of declared knowledge – people who think they know what DFID is all about is low and equally spread across all groups from enthusiasts to rejectors. For Mylrea that is proof that what is needed is more information – “We need to explain better what we do. People need more information.”

Mylrea says coming up with a new brand image was relatively easy. The established US Aid brand was always something that DFID could emulate, but the civil service is nothing if not thorough: “We held focus groups and tried out different words – GB, British, UK, development, aid. What rapidly emerged was a consensus. GB was not inclusive, British was old-fashioned. Aid is less politically correct than development, but people get aid.”

The focus groups also rapidly revealed that the addition of the crest worked. “It is part of a general rebranding across UK government to use the crest more, and we found that it immediately differentiated us as government, rather than as a charity.”

All this made the actual design easy.

Mylrea says there is no plan to eradicate the DFID name completely. “In the industry it commands respect, there is no point in losing it there.”

Projecting the new image depends to a great extent on getting DFID employees involved, as a big bucks media campaign would probably be politically unacceptable.

DFID had to work the changes through with two important stakeholders – DFID employees and the big brand NGOs who dominate eyeballs and mindshare in the aid business.

Mylrea says there was much less resistance than expected from staff to the rebrand, although the DFID culture does tend to be fairly anti-media. “This year, we have been running a programme where local papers profile local people who work for DFID. Quite a few people were pretty worried about this, but when they started getting proud phone calls from proud mothers, things calmed down.”

DFID employees in the field also expressed concern that the new brand would be used indiscreetly. “They were worried we’d go round with a stencil and spray paint the image everywhere! But clearly there will be security issues in some troubled countries. And sometimes it just isn’t appropriate – we want citizens to form relationships with their own government. We don’t want to get in the way of that with our branding.” The new brand is being piloted in five countries, but DFID staff have come round to the idea – “We are getting a stream of requests from people in the field who want to use it,” says Mylrea.

NGOs are a little trickier. Given the ferocious competition for donations in the charitable sector, they can be unwilling to share the limelight. On the other hand, Mylrea says they want to see the UK increase its aid budget and they recognise that, to do this, the electorate has to have a reasonably positive attitude towards government giving, and that necessitates a higher profile.

Where now? Armed with the new image, the aim is to grow the more positive groups of the electorate and to reduce scepticism about corruption. DFID has even come up with a set of key performance indicators to measure this. For instance, it plans to reduce the 40% of interested mainstream who think that corruption makes donation pointless to 37%.

Much of this will be done by DFID staff talking more freely about their work and changing their attitude towards the media. Mylrea has great hopes for twitter, the DFID blog site and revamped websites.

But without a mass advertising campaign pushing home the message, isn’t all this likely to prove fairly ineffective? DFID’s total communications spend for 2008/9 was £15.6 million – a £5 million decrease from the year before. That spend might still sound a lot, but most goes on promoting links between schools and communities in the UK and the developing world, and on backing projects to get more young Brits out to the countries as volunteers.

Mylrea says that a mass ad campaign would be beyond the departmental remit. He adds: “Anyhow it misses the point. This is about labelling something we are already doing, about a visual image which unifies our work.” In any case, he says the use of a selfexplanatory name will lead to much higher levels of recognition.

That may be true, but the government is still competing with high-spending NGOs for attention, particularly on the web. DFID doesn’t score in the top ten on most Google searches related to the subject.

Cruelly, if you put in Third World Aid, the only mention of DFID in the top ten is a 2008 article in the Daily Telegraph on the modest £640,000 bonus pot paid to DFID employees for hitting targets. You can’t help feeling that, if they tackle all tasks with the professionalism of the new image, then they probably deserve it.

Peer review
Tim Hill, Futurebrand

“On first sight the identity has been designed to transition out the descriptor ‘the Department of International Development’ over time and the heraldic crest which currently communicates a ‘heritage’ message for the new brand. However, what really matters for the success of the identity will be how it communicates and acts as both an ‘employer’ brand for staff and as a ‘cause’ brand to stakeholders to ensure that everything UK Aid does is consistent and coherent to the brand strategy and messaging.”

Martin Grimer, Blue Marlin Brand Design.
“At first glance I got more ‘Ministry of Sound’ than ‘Department for International Development’. I’m afraid this one doesn’t hang together at all for me – the crest, the typography, the composition. It’s far from a good piece of design ‘development’ and unfortunately devoid of an idea. An opportunity missed in my book.”

Graham Hales, Interbrand UK
“The final logo and image looks apologetic and mundane. The crest looks official, but it doesn’t exactly celebrate the UK’s achievements. It is uninspiring. And the name UK Aid is also confusing. Is that aid for the UK or from the UK? So there is a dilemma right at the heart of the brand strategy. Yet the research and the brief look excellent and very thorough.

OK, so they were doing it on a low budget, but you can do quite a lot for £130,000. And, quite frankly, for an agency like ours, this would have been an ideal, pro bono job.

The government harps on the whole time about what great creative services we have in the UK but, because it is scared of the Daily Mail, it doesn’t have the bottle to use them. This is a mundane creative vehicle. It might not have cost a lot, but it is not going to be very efficient.”