Narrated by Eamonn Holmes “Ads on the Front Line” is a fascinating look at a controversial and violent series of commercials produced by the Northern Ireland Office during the last 10 years of the troubles. Every advertising trick in the book was used to try and encourage people to ring a confidential police phone line and share information. The purported purpose of the adverts was to save lives by preventing paramilitary violence, but many people remain convinced that they were little more than British government propaganda, designed to promote the security forces and paint republican and loyalist groups as criminals. After the IRA and Loyalist ceasefires of 1994 the adverts moved on to promote the peace process right up to the good Friday Agreement in 1998. Political advertising is banned in the UK but many of these adverts sailed very close to the line.
Around twenty five commercials were produced by the Northern Ireland Office at a cost of more than three million pounds. The commercials ran throughout some of the most violent years of the troubles, and the start of the peace process. The adverts provide fascinating cultural snap shots of Northern Irelands brutal past and it’s aspirations for the future. Ads like “I Wanna Be Like You Dad” won awards around the world but at home the makers had to keep a low profile and most of the filming took place in other parts of the UK for security reasons. As well as talking to a variety of people from all sides of the debate, the programme looks in detail at the thought processes that went into the adverts and the different psychological techniques employed. The documentary is an entertaining and thought provoking look at how the British Government tried to win the hearts and minds of the Public and change the course of history.