Why public health ads fail: 3 things to know

Public health advertising often achieves relatively low levels of success when the campaign message is intended to invoke fear rather than offer concrete steps to protect one's health, according to a recent Kaiser Health News report.

Three things to know about public health ads and reasons why they fail, according to the report.

1. Ad campaigns must give viewers a solution to the problem, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or opioid epidemic, Punam Anand Keller, PhD, a health marketing professor at Dartmouth College, told the publication.

"You have to give them a solution, especially in a health context, like with opioids, because similar to with cigarette smoking, if you increase fear and don't give a solution, they are just going to abuse more because that's their coping mechanism," she said.

2. Marketers often use images of diseased lungs to discourage smokers or the aftermath of car crashes to prevent drunk driving, but these can initiate "defensive responses," which may be avoided by instead giving people ways to take action, according to a 2014 International Journal of Psychology study.

3. For the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has seen mixed messages and "politically charged discourse" on safety measures such as wearing masks, staying physically distanced and getting vaccinated.

Missouri launched a website to provide facts and answers to common questions and encouraged people to "make an informed choice" on whether to get vaccinated, an approach that Dr. Keller recommends as it is "unemotional" and doesn't arouse fear, according to the report.


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