Cartoon strip, original artwork, featuring 'Norm' from the 'Life. Be in it' campaigns, paper, drawn by Alexander Stitt, South Yarra, Victoria, Australia, 1991
The 'Life. Be in it' campaign was a Victorian State Government initiative, launched in 1975. Initially intended purely as a campaign to encourage people to get out and get some exercise, it was an immediate success and by late 1977 it had become a national program supported by all Australian governments, state and Federal. The messages promulgated by the program expanded to promote not only fitness but also quality of life. In 1981 Federal funding was abruptly terminated and 'Life. Be in it' became a not-for-profit company, an early example of privatisation. In April 1998 the 'Life. Be in it' Australia company went into liquidation, although its international private company subsidiary still survives.
Monahan Dayman Adams was the advertising company that devised the 'Life. Be in it' campaign for the Victorian Department of Youth, Sport and Recreation. A principal of the company, Phillip Adams, had the formative ideas for the campaign and Alex Stitt brought them to life with his distinctive cartoon characters.
The campaign consisted largely of a series of TV commercials. The television campaign was backed up by print, and wall calendars were the largest print offshoot. These were sponsored by the life insurance company National Mutual for nineteen years.
The central character in the 'Life. Be in it' commercials became a cult figure. The obese, middle-aged man, Norm, was an anti-hero who needed to stop being a couch potato and become 'more active'. That Norm has become an Australian icon is evidenced by the inclusion of a gigantic, couch-bound Norm (dressed, of all things, in gold lame and sequins) in Sydney's Centenary of Federation parade in 2001. The term 'Norm' has been adopted into the Australian vernacular to describe, according to the Macquarie Dictionary Book of Slang, an average citizen viewed as a non-participant in any kind of physical exercise while addicted to watching spectator sports on television.
The memorable jingle that supported the 'Life. Be in it' campaign was written by Peter Best.
The 'Life. Be in it' campaign has been the subject of considerable academic scrutiny. Public health researchers point to the success of the 'Life. Be in it' program as a demonstration that broad social values can be changed by media campaigns.
A member of the staff of the 'Life. Be in it' company, Sara Jane Shelton, examined developments in Australian sport and recreation policy in a Masters thesis for the University of Melbourne, focusing her analysis around the 'Life. Be in it' program. Shelton argues that changes in sport and recreation policy serve as a barometer of many of the major changes and reversals in doctrines about the size of government ('big government' versus 'small government') and public sector management that have occurred in Australia from the 1970s onwards.
'Slip! Slop! Slap!' was another highly recognisable Australian public health campaign developed by Monahan Dayman Adams. Following the evident success of 'Life. Be in it', the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria approached Phillip Adams to devise a skin cancer prevention program, based on mounting evidence of a link between sunlight exposure and skin cancer. 'Slip! Slop! Slap!' was the result.
Launched in 1980, the 'Slip! Slop! Slap!' campaign identified three recommended precautions - slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat. The slogan and accompanying messages were featured in short TV and radio commercials. Again, these were the creation of Alex Stitt and they starred an animated seagull called Sid.
As with the 'Life. Be in it' campaign, the 'Slip! Slop! Slap!' commercials were generally aired free of charge during community service announcement time. During the 1980s the 'Slip! Slop! Slap!' campaign was adopted by each of the state cancer councils in Australia. Over a seven year period, 'Slip! Slop! Slap!' became not only a national health message but a part of everyday Australian language. Many years on it is still identified by all generations as being one of the key messages about protecting yourself from skin cancer.
In 2002 graphic designer Alex Stitt and his former business partner Bruce Weatherhead were honoured by the Australian Graphic Design Association by being elevated to the AGDA Paperpoint Hall of Fame.
Eastley, Kylie, & Goodwin, Vanessa, Tasmanian crime prevention and community safety directory, June 1998
Life. Be in it.
Macquarie Dictionary Book of Slang
Robinson, Max, 'Bruce Weatherhead and Alex Stitt - Weatherhead and Stitt 1964-1973', AGDA Paperpoint Hall of Fame, Australian Graphic Design Association, 2002.
Shelton, Sara Jane, 'Life. Be in it' TM: From incrementalism to sharp policy reversals, Thesis submitted as partial fulfilment of Master of Arts degree in the Centre for Public Policy, Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne, May 1999 (copy on file, Powerhouse Museum).
Sinclair, C., Borland, R., Davidson, M., & Noy, S., From 'Slip! Slop! Slap!' to Sunsmart: a profile of a health education campaign, Cancer Forum, 18(3), November 1994, 183-187.
Stitt, Alex, & Stitt, Paddy, Interviewed by Powerhouse Museum curator Megan Hicks and researcher Claire Hooker, 21 June 2001 (transcript of conversation notes on file, Powerhouse Museum).