Michael Mackert and Marie Guadagno
Advertising as a field and industry often has a contentious relationship with both health communication and public health due to legitimate concerns about how advertising for certain products, such as alcohol and tobacco, could contribute to less-healthy decisions and behaviors. While acknowledging such concerns, advertisers and their approach to solving communication problems could also provide valuable lessons to those working in health communication. Indeed, advertising agencies are designed to develop creative and effective messages that change consumer behavior—and health communication practitioners and scholars aim to change population-level behavior as well. The perspective and approach of the account planner in the advertising agency—a role whose chief responsibility is to bring the consumer perspective into every step of the advertising development process and inspire effective and creative campaigns—would be particularly valuable to those working in health communication. It was account planning work that shifted traditional milk advertising from promoting it as a healthy drink to the iconic “got milk?” campaign, which positioned milk as a complement that makes other food better—an approach that drove positive sales after years of declining milk consumption. Yet many who work in health communication and public health often know little of how advertising agencies work or their internal processes that might be productively adopted. This lack of understanding can also lead to misperceptions of advertisers’ work and intentions. As an example, one might assume dense medical language in prescription drug advertising is intended to add unnecessary complexity to the advertisements and obscure side effects; instead, advertising professionals who work on prescription drug advertising have often been trained on clear communication—but cannot fully utilize that training because of regulations that require medically accurate terminology that might not be comprehensible to most viewers. Improved understanding of how advertisers can act as agents of change, and increased dialogue between the fields of advertising and health communication, could contribute to improved health communication research, practice, and policy.
Evan K. Perrault
Due to their sheer scope in trying to reach large sections of a population, and the costs necessary to implement them, evaluation is vital at every stage of the health communication campaign process. No stage is more important than the formative evaluation stage. At the formative stage, campaign designers must determine if a campaign is even necessary, and if so, determine what the campaign’s focus needs to be. Clear, measurable, and realistically attainable objectives need to be a primary output of formative evaluation, as these objectives help to guide the creation of all future campaign efforts. The formative stage also includes pilot testing any messages and strategies with the target audience prior to full-scale implementation. Once the campaign is implemented, process evaluation should be performed to determine if the campaign is being implemented as planned (i.e., fidelity), and also to document the dose of campaign exposure. Identifying problem areas during process evaluation can ensure they get fixed prior to the completion of the campaign. Detailed process evaluation also allows for greater ease in replicating a successful campaign attempt in the future, but additionally can provide potential reasons for why a campaign was not successful. The last stage is outcome evaluation—determining if the objectives of the campaign were achieved. While it is the last stage of campaign evaluation, campaign designers need to ensure they have planned for it in the formative stages. If even just one of these stages of evaluation is minimized in campaign design, or relegated to an after-thought, developers need to realize that the ultimate effectiveness of their campaigns is likely to be minimized as well.
Jessica Gall Myrick
Celebrities are famous individuals, well known by many members of the public, who appear frequently in media content. When celebrities appear in the media alongside another cause, be it selling soap or promoting public health, the message becomes a celebrity appeal. Celebrity appeals are messages where a celebrity advocates for or is implicitly associated with a target behavior. In the context of health and risk-related messages, celebrity appeals can take the form of public service announcements, advertisements for health and risk-related products, or even news coverage of a celebrity’s personal struggles with a health issue or risky behavior.
Research on celebrity appeals overlaps with the marketing literature investigating the effects of celebrity endorsements on product preferences and purchasing behavior. This work on the persuasiveness of celebrity endorsements demonstrates that celebrities can draw attention to a product or idea, but also that many other factors, like involvement, familiarity, source credibility, and endorser gender can moderate how persuasive a celebrity-based appeal is. Additionally, research on celebrity disclosures of illnesses reveal that these de facto awareness campaigns can elicit emotions in audiences and motivate behavior change. However, media coverage of celebrities has also been associated with harmful effects on lay individuals’ wellbeing, suggesting important caveats for message designers who rely on celebrities to garner attention for a cause or to motivate lay individuals to change their own health and risk-related behaviors. The existing empirical evidence on celebrity appeals and additional theoretical perspectives for understanding their potential persuasiveness provides many insights for message designers.
Rebekah H. Nagler and Susan M. LoRusso
Clinicians, medical and public health researchers, and communication scholars alike have long been concerned about the effects of conflicting health messages in the broader public information environment. Not only have these messages been referred to in many ways (e.g., “competing,” “contradictory,” “inconsistent,” “mixed,” “divergent”), but they have been conceptualized in distinct ways as well—perhaps because they have been the subject of study across health, science, and political communication domains. Regardless of specific terminology and definitions, the concerns have been consistent throughout: conflicting health messages exist in the broader environment, they are noticed by the public, and they impact public understanding and health behavior. Yet until recently, the scientific evidence base to substantiate these concerns has been remarkably thin. In the past few years, there has been a growing body of rigorous empirical research documenting the prevalence of conflicting health messages in the media environment. There is also increasing evidence that people perceive conflict and controversy about several health topics, including nutrition and cancer screening. Although historically most studies have stopped short of systematically capturing exposure to conflicting health messages—which is the all-important first step in demonstrating effects—there have been some recent efforts here. Taken together, a set of qualitative (focus group) and quantitative (observational survey and experimental) studies, guided by diverse theoretical frameworks, now provides compelling evidence that there are adverse outcomes of exposure to conflicting health information. The origins of such information vary, but understanding epidemiology and the nature of scientific discovery—as well as how science and health news is produced and understood by the public—helps to shed light on how conflicting health messages arise. As evidence of the effects of conflicting messages accumulates, it is important to consider not just the implications of such messages for health and risk communication, but also whether and how we can intervene to address the effects of exposure to message conflict.
Mohan Jyoti Dutta, Satveer Kaur-Gill, and Naomi Tan
Cultivation theory examines the effects of the media, mainly television on viewer perception over an extended period of time. Television is seen by people throughout the globe, with many spending considerable amounts of time watching the medium. The act of watching television has been described as the first leisure activity to cut across social and ethnic divisions in society. This made it a unique mass media tool because mass message dissemination to diverse groups in a population was made possible. Cultivation scholars have studied the effects of the medium, trying to understand how television content can alter one’s social reality. Heavy viewers are considered to be most susceptible to the effects of cultivation. The reality of these effects poses important questions for health communication scholars considering the role television plays in disseminating health messages. Health communication scholars became interested in studying cultivation to understand the health-related effects the medium could have on viewers. Understanding the health effects of television is pivotal, considering that television and the structures that constitute television content set the agendas for many health topics, often disseminating negative and positive messages that can impact society, especially the young and impressionable. With television content addressing health issues such as nutrition, diet, body image, tobacco, cancer, drugs, obesity, and women’s health, cultivation theory can offer health communication scholars a framework to understand how health behaviors are shaped by the mass media and the roles these media play in reinforcing unhealthy behaviors. By establishing a basis for studying how such portrayals have direct health-related effects on viewers, cultivation theory creates openings for questioning the structures of the media that put out unhealthy content and for interrogating the roles and responsibilities of media agenda in inculcating positive health messages. Directions for future research include looking at contextually contrasting populations that share different cultural and community values, and different ways of consuming television. Research questions exploring the roles of community structures with different sets of subjective norms, or with different roles of community norms, in the realm of cultivation effects offer new areas for exploration.
Kimberly A. Kaphingst
Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs (DTCA) is a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States, affecting the health-care landscape. DTCA has been controversial, since a major increase in this type of advertising resulted from re-interpretation of existing regulations in the late 20th century. Health and risk communication research can inform many of the controversial issues, assisting physicians, policymakers, and the public in understanding how consumers respond to DTCA. Prior research addresses four major topics: (1) the content of DTCA in different channels, (2) consumers’ perceptions of and responses to DTCA, (3) individual-level factors that affect how consumers respond to DTCA, and (4) message factors that impact consumers’ responses. Such research shows that the presentation of risk and benefits information is generally not balanced in DTCA, likely affecting consumers’ attitudes toward and comprehension of the risk information. In addition, despite consumers’ generally somewhat negative or neutral perceptions of DTCA, this advertising seems to affect their health information seeking and communication behaviors. Finally, a wide range of individual-level and message factors have been shown to have an impact on how consumers process and respond to DTCA. Consumers’ responses, including how they process the information, request prescription drugs from providers, and share information about prescription drugs, have an important impact on the effects of DTCA. The fields of health and risk communication therefore bring theories and methodologies that are essential to better understanding the impact of this advertising.
Suruchi Sood, Amy Henderson Riley, and Kristine Cecile Alarcon
Entertainment-education (EE) began as a communication approach that uses both entertainment and education to engender individual and social change, but is emerging as a distinct theoretical, practice, and evidence-based communication subdiscipline. EE has roots in oral and performing arts traditions spanning thousands of years, such as morality tales, religious storytelling, and the spoken word. Modern-day EE, meanwhile, is produced in both fiction and nonfiction designs that include many formats: local street theater, music, puppetry, games, radio, television, and social media. A classic successful example of EE is the children’s television program Sesame Street, which is broadcast in over 120 countries. EE, however, is a strategy that has been successfully planned, implemented, and evaluated in countries around the world for children and adults alike. EE scholarship has traditionally focused on asking, “Does it work?” but more recent theorizing and research is moving toward understanding how EE works, drawing from multidisciplinary theories. From a research standpoint, such scholarship has increasingly showcased a wide range of methodologies. The result of these transformations is that EE is becoming an area of study, or subdiscipline, backed by an entire body of theory, practice, and evidence. The theoretical underpinnings, practice components, and evidence base from EE may be surveyed via the peer-reviewed literature published over the past 10 years. However, extensive work in social change from EE projects around the world has not all made it into the published literature. EE historically began as a communication approach, one tool in the communication toolbox. Over time, the nascent approach became its own full-fledged strategy focused on individual change. Backed by emerging technologies, innovative examples from around the globe, and new variations in implementation, it becomes clear that the field of EE is emerging into a discrete theoretical, practice, and evidence-based subdiscipline within communication that increasingly recognizes the inherent role of individuals, families, communities, organizations, and policies on improving the conditions needed for lasting social change.
Jessica Gall Myrick and Robin L. Nabi
Fear is a negatively valenced discrete emotional state that is an inherent part of the human experience. With strong evolutionary roots, fear serves important functions, including alerting people to present threats and motivating action to avoid future threats. As such, fear is an emotion that frequently attracts the attention of scholars and message designers who hope to persuade audiences to change their behavior in light of potential threats to well-being and public safety. Several theories have aimed to describe the effects of fear-based appeals on audiences, focusing largely on the cognitive correlates of fear (i.e., severity and susceptibility) and their subsequent impacts on persuasive outcomes. However, more recent theorizing has returned to a focus on the influence that the emotion of fear itself has on attitude and behavior change. Given that many health-oriented fear appeals have been shown to evoke multiple emotions, including anger, disgust, and sadness, current theorizing has taken a mixed-emotions or emotional flow perspective to provide a deeper understanding of fear appeal effects. Further, individual differences have been considered to determine who is most likely to experience fear during and after message consumption.
In addition to fear appeals that purposefully aim to scare audiences to motivate attitude and behavior change, recent work suggests that fear can be generated by other forms of messages (e.g., news accounts, social media posts, interpersonal conversations) that may influence receivers’ approaches to health issues. Moreover, research also suggests that fear may motivate social sharing of messages, which can in turn allow for more widespread influence of fear-based messages.
Worldwide, key behavioral risk factors for ill-health and premature death include smoking, alcohol, too much or too little of several dietary factors, and low physical activity. At least three structural factors (biological attributes and functions, population size and structure, and wealth and income disparities) modify the global impact that the risk factors have on health; without accounting for these structural drivers, the effect of government-driven incentives to act on the behavioral risk factors for improved health will be suboptimal. The risk factors and their impact on health are further driven by malleable circumstantial drivers, including technological developments, exposure to products, social influences and attitudes, and potency of products. Government-driven incentives, which can be both positive and negative, can act on the circumstantial drivers and can impact on the behavioral risk factors to improve or worsen health. Government-driven incentives include a range of policies and measures: policies that reduce exposure; regulation of the private sector; research and development to reduce potency; resource allocation for advice and treatment; direct incentives on individual behavior; and, managing co-benefits and adverse side effects. Within a framework of government-driven whole-of-society approaches to improve health, an accountability system is needed to identify who or what causes what harm to health to whom. A health footprint, modeled on the carbon footprint is proposed as the accounting system.
Christopher B. Mayhorn and Michael S. Wogalter
Warnings are risk communication messages that can appear in a variety of situations within the healthcare context. Potential target audiences for warnings can be very diverse and may include health professionals such as physicians or nurses as well as members of the public. In general, warnings serve three distinct purposes. First, warnings are used to improve health and safety by reducing the likelihood of events that might result in personal injury, disease, death, or property damage. Second, they are used to communicate important safety-related information. In general, warnings likely to be effective should include a description of the hazard, instructions on how to avoid the hazard, and an indication of the severity of consequences that might occur as a result of not complying with the warning. Third, warnings are used to promote safe behavior and reduce unsafe behavior. Various regulatory agencies within the United States and around the globe may take an active role in determining the content and formatting of warnings.
The Communication-Human Information Processing (C-HIP) model was developed to describe the processes involved in how people interact with warnings and other information. This framework employs the basic stages of a simple communication model such that a warning message is sent from one entity (source) through some channel(s) to another (receiver). Once warning information is delivered to the receiver, processing may be initiated, and if not impeded, will continue through several stages including attention switch, attention maintenance, comprehension and memory, beliefs and attitudes, and motivation, possibly ending in compliance behavior. Examples of health-related warnings are presented to illustrate concepts. Methods for developing and evaluating warnings such as heuristic evaluation, iterative design and testing, comprehension, and response times are described.