Hard hitting Zero Tolerance messages for NOMS

Zero Tolerance – Who’s The Loser

Zero Tolerance – Who’s The Loser


The substance misuse co-commissioning team at National Offender Management Services (NOMS) contacted GDA having seen other examples our anti-smuggling campaigns (see Consequences campaign and DVD).

NOMS had identified a need for an anti-smuggling campaign to be rolled out across the high security estate (Category A prisons), targeting visitors smuggling contraband into the prisons.

Tighter budget constraints and measures throughout the prison service as a whole had resulted in cuts and increased pressure on staff. Thanks to high profile media coverage, prisoners were aware of this and continued their attempts to smuggling banned items into the prison via visitors. An anti smuggling campaign was more vital than ever.

The average profile of Category A prisoners (Lara Natale in CIVITAS Institute for the Study of Civil Society 2010) reveals why they can often be difficult to engage through traditional communications:

  • Average reading levels starting from those of an 11 year old
  • An unstable upbringing with no positive role-models
  • A very low engagement, if any, with education
  • 25% from ethnic groups for whom English is not the primary language

On examination, GDA found that these characteristics also held true for many visitors as prisoners, their friends and families often share a high percentage of common factors within their backgrounds.

The NOMS Zero Tolerance poster campaign

Yet despite low reading and educational levels, some prisoners within the high security estate can be manipulative and exert a high degree of influence and pressure on visitors, to coerce them into smuggling drugs and other contraband into the prison.


To create an anti smuggling campaign that could be delivered cost effectively across 8 UK high security prisons.

The campaign would need to:

  • Clearly convey the illegality of smuggling
  • Communicate that, with the high degree of security in place, it is not a question of if you get caught but when you get caught. It is a gamble the visitor won’t win
  • Be hard-hitting and grab the attention of the visitor
  • Cut through rationales that visitors may have made in their own mind to justify putting their own freedom at risk


GDA created a campaign that centred on the use of large format posters located in key visitor footfall areas.  In this instance, size was important. The size of an average door, the posters were intentionally large to create significant impact and stand-out from other signage.

These large format posters were also selected as the most cost effective media for use across 8 sites, giving each prison the flexibility needed to site the messages where they would create the most impact in each location.

The posters were visually striking, with images and messages that connected at a deep emotional level and were intentionally challenging. Together the images and the messages conveyed the far-reaching effects of smuggling in their enormity, not just on the visitor (who may already be willing to gamble with their own liberty) but on those that they love.

By posing the question: ‘Who’s the Loser’ and using the dice logo throughout, the posters immediately communicated that smuggling is a gamble the visitor won’t win, making the visitor think beyond the immediate consequences to themselves and about the damage that will really be done to those around them.


For the first time, the strength of message matched the severity of the issue.

The posters raised the profile of the issue with visitors and staff alike, and feedback applauded the direct and hard-hitting nature of the message.  Some visitors also commented that the posters made them feel ‘uncomfortable’. This was the intended response – the potential ramifications of smuggling are upsetting but must still be faced if we are to stop it happening.

The variety of posters within the campaign allowed the prisons involved to site the posters across a range of locations and to use those that best fitted their visitor specific demographic in those areas of highest footfall.  Some also went on to use the posters in staff areas to reinforce anti staff corruption communications.

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