A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Home Intelligence Special Report No. 31 .

Public Response to “Fuel Communiqués” Nos 1, 2, and 3

1. General Summary

At the request of Campaigns Division, Intelligence Officers were asked to make an investigation into the public response to the first three “Fuel Communiqué” advertisements.

Reports were received from eleven Regions. The majority opinion was that the hard-pressed housewife in wartime has not time to assimilate such lengthy and “complicated” advertisements, and that shorter and simpler appeals would be more effective.

There was evidence that “most housewives are doing their best to economise.” On the other hand, apathy was reported among a minority and it was suggested that:-

  1. The colder weather might increase interest in the fuel campaign: “when people find that they cannot have all the coal they want they will take more interest in the advertisements.”

  2. Advertising on the Radio and by personal contact with “fuel experts” may be more effective than in the Press.

  3. The time will soon be ripe for a repetition of the original “fuel target” advertisement.

2. Does the style of presentation command attention ?

Reports from seven Regions show that, though the “heading and general topic” of the Communiqués may have been noticed by a majority of housewives, a very small number actually read the advertisements: “Yes I noticed them, but did not read them” was a typical reply. While a number of people, “rendered apathetic by the spate of advertisements of every kind”, were reported to have passed over the Communiqués as “just another fuel advertisement”, other opinions about the presentation ranged from “uninspiring”, “dull and grey”, to “striking” and “attracting interest and attention.”

3. Does it induce the housewife to read the advertisement ?

It is believed that only a “minority of housewives bother to read the newspaper advertisements”, and reports from nine Regions emphasise that the Communiqués were “too long and wordy” to be read through and digested, though a minority of “more intelligent and educated women” who have read the advertisements are reported to have understood and appreciated them. The length of the Communiqués were compared unfavourably to the brevity of the “Fuel Flashes”, and the third Communiqué was particularly liked because it was “less wordy” and only emphasised one important point.

What is described as “the opening military blah” is unpopular. It is felt that straight hints by themselves would get over better. The use of the word “Rules” is thought to have too much of a “school marm” tone.

4. Is the copy appreciated and understood by housewives ?

Reports from ten Regions express a wide demand for a more “simple and direct” appeal to housewives. The present form is disliked for the following reasons:-

  1. The style in which they are written is too complicated and “a little beyond the grasp of some sections of the public.” It is suggested that “the complexities and minor irritations of wartime life do not put the housewife in the right frame of mind” to read “somewhat complicated advertisements”, and that “such headings as ‘Tactical Reserve’ and other military terms mean little to the busy housewife, and are unlikely to attract her.” It was said that a number of housewives read only the “Into Action Hints” and did not bother about the first part of the advertisement. (10 Regions)

  2. “A growing dislike of roundabout ways of asking the public to undertake essential obligations.” It was suggested that such a direct appeal as: “Consumption of coal exceeds production by ?? tons - what are you doing about it?” would be more effective. (4 Regions)

  3. The appeal is thought not to be sufficiently personal: It is suggested that advertisements with a more “human” and “matey” tone about them would have a wider appeal. (3 Regions)

While a limited number of people thought the suggestions set out “sensible and informative”, some resentment is reported to be felt by housewives already “exercising the most rigid economy” - either from patriotism or necessity - “It isn't us the Government should nag - go for the factories and big offices” expresses their injured feelings.


October 13th, 1942.

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