The business of homeland securityU.K. ID and Passport Service brings in ad men

Published 11 March 2009

The debate in the United Kingdom about the merit of a national biometric ID continues, but the Identity and Passport Service is not waiting

Some fifteen years ago, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the feared KGB — now named FSB — decided it needed an image re-make in the West. It hired a Los Angeles public relations team and paid the first installment on a retainer, but then thought better of the idea and canceled the contract. The copy-writers who were hired for the job decided to go ahead, and they produced three ads which, presumably, would have served the new-image needs of the FSB. Two of the ads featured youngish, well-dressed, professional-looking FSB operatives totting laptops. The voice over of one ad said: “This is not your father’s KGB,” and in the other ad it said: “We love to spy, and it shows.” The third ad showed a barren, forbidding, black-and-white vista of the Siberian tundra. As the camera panned from left to right, the black-and-white image changed into a colorful picture of a grassy landscape with trees and flowers, with the voice-over saying: “It is morning again in Siberia.”

Why these ruminations about advertising and image making? The debate in the United Kingdom about national ID continues, but the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) is not waiting for that debate to be settled before making the next move. The next me: IPS has signed up an advertising agency to develop campaigns for its services. Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO won the contract following a three-way pitch organized by the Central Office of Information against CHI & Partners and VCCP. It will work in all media across the agency’s entire area of work, including identity cards, passports, and the General Register Office (GRO). The contract is set to last three to four years and has no firm value. A spokesperson for the IPS told Kablenet GC News that the agency is not on a paid retainer, but will obtain a commission from the advertising it places for the IPS. No firm plans are yet in place. The spokesperson said: “The next step is working to develop a campaign to support all the products the IPS offers.”

James Hall, IPS chief executive, said: “IPS needs an agency to support the development of a creative strategy targeting a variety of audiences across all our work, including the National Identity Scheme. Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO has shown a high degree of creativity and some excellent long term strategic thinking.”

Meanwhile, immigration minister Phil Woolas has said that by 26 February 2009 the IPS had issued 10,596 identity cards to foreign nationals in the United Kingdom since it began the process in December. He was responding to a parliamentary question from Conservative MP Michael Ancram.