M-Four was set up in 2008 and now employs 14 people. “Most of us come from an advertising and design background,” says Jennings. The studio works on everything from public awareness campaigns to annual reports and seasonal ads promoting the city’s shopping areas at Christmas.
One of its most recent projects is the Hobby Journal, a pocket-sized guide to social activities in Manchester complete with a calendar, notes and address pages. The book aims to encourage older people who might be lonely or isolated to go out and socialise in their area.
“The brief was to create a booklet but we thought a diary or notebook would be better and may be kept because it’s useful,” explains Jennings. “The idea that this would be handed to lonely people made us realise that this had to be special and it had to work. Considering the content is a directory, it made sense to build on that by adding a calendar, note pages and address lists, making it feel personal to the recipient,” he explains.
The studio occasionally works with external clients such as the NHS, and recently launched a campaign to discourage people from making non-essential visits to A&E. Ads listed the names of common illnesses such as influenza and hayfever with the letters ‘A’ and ‘E’ removed, reminding the public that minor illnesses don’t require a trip to hospital. They also directed viewers towards a website offering advice on how to treat minor conditions.
A similarly playful approach was adopted for a series of ads aiming to discourage people from littering, with copy referencing famous song lyrics and film quotes, coupled with bold messages warning residents of fines – and urging them to keep their city clean. Since the campaign was launched, Jennings says litter complaints have halved.
M-Four’s campaign discouraging people from littering in Manchester. Litter complaints have halved in the city since it was launched
“Littering is a boring subject, and telling people not to do it is like telling your grandmother how to suck eggs. Everyone knows not to litter but a majority do it, and do it without feeling guilt, or they think it provides someone with a job. We tackled this brief with a copy-driven approach, no visuals, no illustrations – just the message. But for people to engage with it the message has to be hard-hitting or comical. So we did just that,” he adds.
A sense of humour was also key to the success of a campaign aimed at promoting safe sex to teens. Instead of using shock tactics or warning of the dangers of STIs, M-Four created a series of illustrated posters making cheeky innuendoes to gently remind teens about using protection. Posters were displayed around the city and postcards given out at youth radio events and sexual health clinics. Online, the council used Spotify and social media to target young people and push them towards anyplanstonight.co.uk, a guide to sexual health and contraception services in Manchester.
“It pushed traffic to the website up by 460%,” says Jennings. “Obviously that campaign is only one piece of the work done on combatting STIs and teenage pregnancy, but in the following year there was a 15% drop in teenage pregnancies in Manchester,” he explains.
As Jennings points out, M-Four was keen to avoid making teens feel as if they were being told off: “The Any Plans Tonight? brief was to promote a healthy sex life to young people. That includes using contraception and knowing what to do if you need help. A healthy sex life should be fun,