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In Praise Of: HEBS Adverts

April 9, 2016

I generally try to take the moral high ground when it comes to the Buzzfeed-ification of online journalism, but as the popularity of that site and its many imitators shows, everyone likes a nostalgic listicle every now and again.

So while I’m glad to say that churning out clickbait hasn’t yet become my day job, a wee blast from the past has inspired me to indulge in a quick and dirty dive into the editorial abyss.

HEBS

I’d like to heap some praise on a long-defunct quango, the Health Education Board for Scotland, and more specifically, the run of memorable television adverts they produced at the turn of the millennium.

Whether they actually prevented any malleable young minds from drinking, smoking or taking drugs is questionable, but for a certain demographic of Scots, their choice quotes remain embedded in the subconscious.

Here’s my pick of the bunch:

Picture the scene, you’ve finally managed to convince the ‘bigger boys’ round your house, there’s some takeaway pizza in the lounge, then one of them asks “How about a wee toot?”

You reply: “What, heroin?” and he goes, “Aye, smack, but you’re only smokin’ it”.

The rest of the ad follows the two sides of the square/smackhead conundrum. While the sensible chap on the right goes about his normal life, the drug-addled degenerate on the left has to sell his Playstation – “pride and joy is it, twenty quid” – and chore some money from his dad’s coat – “I wasn’t stealin’, that’s exactly what you’re doing Stuart” – before the screens merge as one asks the other “any spare change pal?”.

Fade to blue and the HEBS tagline, Think About It.

This one sees our skinny wee protagonist working on his chat-up lines whilst getting ready, only to succumb to the scourge of alcohol once he’s actually at the party. Egged on by his pals and the pretend Prodigy blasting out the stereo, he finally plucks up the courage to approach the object of his affection.

What comes next is the timeless: “Sarah, I really fancy you, so, how about it eh?”

To be fair, I’ve people get lucky with a lot worse; she clearly wasny worth it mate.

Another cautionary tale of drinking too much at hoose pertys, as the wee lassie (Lisa from Grange Hill to be exact) keeps on getting flashbacks from the weekend whilst walking towards the guy she fancies.

Finally, as they pass one another in the school corridor and her memory has revealed the full horror of her session, the smirking berk turns to his pal and goes: “Should have seen the state of her on Saturday night”.

A cautionary tale for the ages.

This is a bit older (1996 apparently) and officially Scotland Against Drugs rather than HEBS, but is worthy of inclusion as it contains another classic catchphrase.

It sees some gadgy taking great delight in explaining how he’s bumped all these punters by selling them vitamin pills and dog worming tablets instead of swedgers, before more alarmingly informing the viewer: “See her, I sold her acid, she thought she was getting an eccie, she didn’t even know the difference man, look at her, it’s turned her into a pure space cadet”.

The message from the authorities, if you hadn’t worked it out already; You’d be off you’re head to trust a dealer.

Given this was the same year Trainspotting shone a light on the country’s drug abuse problem, it’s hardly surprising they ran a follow-up campaign in 1997 reminding the general populous that everyone’s got a drugs problem.

Back to HEBS again and state-sanctioned drugs. The blue sticks campaign featured a brightly coloured cartoon world where our narrator – who sounds like Baz Luhrmann from the previous year’s ‘Wear Sunscreen’ song – tells us some really cool beings live.

However, they have a strange habit of chewing on blue sticks, which make their breath smell, poision their bodies and taste disgusting; yet nobody’s willing to admit any of this. Can you tell what it is yet?

Finally, one courageous young alien, upon trying her first blue stick, utters the then infamous phrase: “This tastes boggin”. Cue mass realisation.

There was a follow-on ad with an actual alien pointing out what’s wrong with fags, but it was rubbish, so I’m not going to waste any more time writing about it.

The last one I can remember was where the whole HEBS thing kind of jumped the shark. To really hammer home the anti-smoking message, they created a fictitious girl band, Stinx, and made them a no-expenses-spared music video, which looked like the Spice Girls and sounded like Britney Spears.

‘Why Do You Keep On Runnin’ Boy?’ – sample lyric “so whatcha say boy, fancy getting jiggy, what’s the problem boy, the smell of my ciggy?” – got very annoying, very quickly. But like so many pop songs before and after it, also became inexplicably popular.

Teenage girl demand meant it was eventually released as a single, selling over 10,000 copies and reaching number eight in the Scottish charts. So despite reportedly costing the government £340,000 it went a long way to making that back and even saw the agency behind it, The Bridge, being asked by Serbian officials to roll it out there.

Stinx

A year or so later HEBS was merged with the Public Health Institute of Scotland to become NHS Health Scotland, with the marketing budget being diverted to boring things like doctor’s wages and MRI scanners.

Shame really, as I’ve never seen a run of telly spots since then that captured colloquialisms so keenly and nailed the pitfalls of being a Scottish teenager so well.

Of course YouTube is awash with similarly entertaining public information films, but these were the only ones I could find of that era. If you can think of any I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments; I love a good reminisce.

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