Positive messages make most impact in public health campaigns

The public are more likely to take notice of a health campaign full of positive tips and benefits than one brimming with messages of doom and gloom.

This is one of the main findings in a study conducted by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab in New York, reports the Huffington Post. The review discovered that marketing campaigns featuring positive messages about health and wellbeing tend to be more effective than those with negative messages.

The research revealed that while negative messages worked well with industry experts who understand the finer details of health and nutrition, the same cannot be said about their effectiveness on the general public.

Cornell’s marketing and nutritional science professor Bryan Wansink explains this approach works from a very young age. “If you’re a parent, it’s better to focus on the benefits of broccoli and not the harms of hamburgers,” he said.

The university’s research team also extended the study to the area of anti-smoking campaigns. Here, they concluded that a motivational message will have a greater impact on the reader. Of the two examples: “This helpline can help you quit smoking – and save you around £1,200 a year,” and the much-used “smoking kills”, it’s clear that the public responds much more positively to the former of the two. This emphasis on the constructive rather than the destructive extends across healthcare and pharma marketing as a whole.

The study also reveals that there seems to be a shift away from the more headline-grabbing health campaigns we have seen in the past. If you remember Barnardo’s ‘Giving Children Back Their Future‘, France’s ‘Droits des Non-Fumeurs‘ ‘Smoking Means Being a Slave to Tobacco‘ and New York Health Department’s ‘Don’t Drink Yourself Fat‘, you will know how shock-tactics can be used to maximum effect.

However, despite this move away from negativity, the study also comes with a few caveats. It urges public health officials to make sure their message is aimed at the intended audience, suggesting that if the audience is knowledgeable or risk adverse, more negative messages could still work.

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Ed Hudson, Managing Director

Ed joined Create Health in 2009 to help establish the agency as a leading healthcare marketing business with a reputation for transformative thinking in a challenging and changing sector. He oversees our marketing and business development agenda and leads an ambitious team of professionals that offer a unique blend of strategic, creative and tech expertise. You can follow Ed on Twitter and LinkedIn.