Should We Scare Them???

Check this out. What you will see is a continuation of the riff, started in my previous post, on the topic of how to create impactful public health messages. Translated, how do you mount a communications campaign that gets people to do something important for their health?

Yesterday we talked about the important role that “community leaders” can play in getting the masses to accept your public health message. Today’s URL carries you to the CDC’s elements for their anti-smoking campaign. Check out one or two of the videos offered at the top of the landing page. What you will see are the ravages of smoking-induced cancer, asthma, etc. as presented by the affected patients themselves. Compelling? They are to me! But how about to the masses?

Study after study has demonstrated that scary statistics, e.g. increased death rates, don’t do much convincing. Behavioral Economics teaches us that recipients of such messages simply employ “heuristics,” decision rules, to tune such negative information out using the “Yeah, but it won’t happen to me” line of reasoning. But how about these personalized vignettes, shared by people with holes in their throats wearing oxygen masks? How impactful are they with the average Joe/Josephine?

Bottom Line. Creating public health messages that work is not an easy task. As demonstrated over the past two posts, such messages need to be carefully customized based on such considerations as the behavior in which we want the message’s recipients to engage/not to engage, and the (sub)culture of which the recipients are members. Credibility is the name of the game here. 

My friends, there is a body of knowledge that speaks to such issues. It’s called “Health Psychology.” There are many good textbooks on this behavioral science.  During the pandemic era, where so many health outcomes are being determined by populations complying/not complying with public health messages, you might like to go read one. Or maybe even two.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *