More on public health messaging

frank - cokeWe’ve seen that the Department of Health have decided to stop paying into the advertising budget for FRANK TV ads and posters, like the one to the right.

A recent conversation I had with someone in the DH suggested that one of the reasons for that was because they want their advertising spend to lead to a change of behaviour.

My view of FRANK adverts (both print and digital) is that their purpose is to persuade young people to use other parts of the service (website, helpline etc.) rather than change behaviour per se.

That may be a good thing as the recent article on the BBC’s website about FRANK pointed out there isn’t much evidence for media campaigns changing people’s behaviour when it comes to drugs.  Indeed this helpful summary of the evidence on Drug and Alcohol Findings suggests that US attempts “may have promoted more pro-cannabis attitudes and beliefs”.

Nevertheless, posters remain a core activity of a lot of public health campaigns.  So, if you were going to try to develop a campaign that does lead to behaviour change what might you do?

I’ve seen quite a lot to suggest that social norms campaigns may be one way to go, and I was reminded of this paper from a few years ago which describes an RCT of one such campaign, which seems to have been able to show that it is possible to reduce the uptake of cannabis and alcohol.

The authors say:

The central premise of our message strategy was that the primary task of adolescence is attaining greater independence and autonomy. A principal benefit of substance use therefore is likely to be the accompanying feeling of rebellious non-compliance and independence. A principal cost is the risk to aspirations associated with greater maturity and autonomy. Our campaign was intended, therefore, to emphasize the inconsistency of drug (primarily marijuana) and alcohol use—and to a lesser extent tobacco use—with one’s aspirations. In addition, the campaign sought to reframe substance use as an activity that impaired rather than enhanced personal autonomy.

slater - wave 4The research compared schools which used the campaign alongside an evidence based prevention programme with those just using the posters or the programme and a control group where neither posters or programme were run.

As the graph, right, shows they found that it was the combination of an evidence based curriculum and the positive posters that seemed to have had the most effect at the point where they last measured impact.

What you’ll notice here is that the researchers are measuring the effect of their intervention in a relatively controlled environment – though they point out that there were federal campaigns being run at the same time as their programme.

That isn’t the case for the Department of Health with their youth campaign and it will be very interesting to see how they manage to show behaviour change from what is a much more scatter-gun and possibly much less visible campaign.


One thought on “More on public health messaging

  1. Pingback: Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes – implications for drug and alcohol issues | Mentor Thinks

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