March 21, 2022

3 Impactful Approaches to Public Health Messaging

As a public health employee, you have a lot of important messages to share. Unfortunately, the world is a bit fatigued right now. We absorb so much information, day in and day out, that we’re all exhausted from listening. Getting people to pay attention to even one more bit of news is getting harder. So, what’s a communicator to do?

I’m going to share three strategies that will help you stand out – Positive Messaging, Authentic Audience Inclusion, and Counter-Marketing. These approaches are very different from each other, so you’ll have a new set of options for whatever challenge you face. 

1. Positive Messaging 

Positive Messaging is a “we get it, we’re with you” approach. So often in public health, we’re talking about things that people shouldn’t be doing. It’s easy to seem like you’re finger-wagging, plus there’s an old saying that you can’t “should” your audience. At KidGlov, we believe that if you want someone to listen and get on board with you, it’s better to focus on the positive side. Allow people to feel okay about what they’re already doing and show them how to make things even better. 

For example, we did a campaign to educate parents and their children on the proper use of technology and the importance of setting limits on time spent “plugged in.” We didn’t say “you shouldn’t use technology so much.” Instead, we said, “We get it – technology is a part of life and it’s not going anywhere.But like any good thing, too much is too much, and you’ll have the best experience if you know when to say when.” We ran some digital advertising where we said, “Hey, if you eat a slice of pizza, that’s great, it’s delicious. You have a couple slices, also great. But when you eat too much pizza, you’ll probably end up not feeling great at all.” Tech time is exactly the same – a little bit, great. A little bit more, still feeling pretty good. Too much, not feeling great about it anymore. That’s an example of communicating a potential negative with a positive approach.

2. Authentic Audience Inclusion

Why settle for just getting your audience to listen when you can invite them to actively participate? This strategy is called Authentic Audience Inclusion, and I borrowed it from Crystal Borde, who is the VP of DE&I at Vanguard Communications. Crystal believes that the best way to engage your audience is to invite them to be a vocal, contributing part of your campaign.

For example, if you have created a great infographic to convey your message, invite the audience to share it on social media. One of our campaigns about family values included a pledge that readers could print off, sign, and post on their fridge or bulletin board. You can create a petition for  viewers to sign, share important information via Snapchat, or anything else you can dream up that allows the audience to take action and join the conversation. Best of all, your message gets a boost in both reach and credibility when people share it with friends and family who know them and trust their opinion. 

3. Counter-Marketing

This brings us to the third and final strategy. Counter-marketing is a bit trickier than the first two, and it would probably never be my first recommendation. But when positive, inclusive messages aren’t direct enough, this gives you a way to up the ante. The idea here is to message directly against the health risk or behavior that you are trying to discourage. 

A classic example is the “Truth” campaign against tobacco from the 1990s and early 2000s. They came right out and said, “Tobacco is bad, period. Don’t do it. Here is some very shocking footage and information to get you to pay attention.” This is considered among the most successful anti-smoking messages ever. 

Another example is a campaign from 2016, encouraging middle school students to eat more healthy food and less fast food. The message was to “stick it to the fast-food man.” The desired behavior – eating more fruits and vegetables – was framed as empowering teens to combat deceptive or manipulative fast-food messaging. If you’ve ever been around teenagers, you can appreciate the wisdom of encouraging them to reject advice from adults and think for themselves. 

Of course, being this direct will provoke more of a reaction, both from your audience and from the opposition. You may generate some push-back, so be prepared to validate your claims. Make sure your message is authentic, in good taste, and fair. 

And there you have it – three ways to be heard in a time when everyone is tired of listening. Keep them in mind and choose the one that fits your situation. Thanks so much for reading our Marketing Mondays series. If you’d like to learn more about KidGlov’s work with social impact marketing, you can visit our social impact page.