chapter  9
18 Pages

Public Health Campaigns: Mass Media Strategies

The mass media have been used in health promotion efforts for many years. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, posters, and pamphlets have been used to encourage people to fasten seatbelts (Robertson et al., 1974), to quit smoking (Flay, 1987a), to use contraceptives (Udry, 1974), and most recently, to 'just say no" to drugs and to use condoms to protect against the spread of the AIDS virus (Backer, 1988). Although many public health educators (and mass communication researchers) remain somewhat pessimistic about the potential of the mass media to effect long-term changes in behavior, most would now agree that the mass media can be effective in increasing awareness of health issues. The mass media also can be effective in stimulating attitude and behavior change, especially ifmedia messages are supplemented with interpersonal and community structures that support such changes. (For reviews of mass media health campaigns, see Atkin, 1979; Flay, 1987a; Lau, Kane, Berry, Ware, & Roy, 1980; Solomon, 1982.)

Today, a number of organizations and institutions are using the mass media as part of their health education efforts, especially when potential audiences are large and widely dispersed. Although comprehensive evaluations of these efforts are scarce, those that have been conducted show that the most effective media campaigns are based on a thorough understanding of the health issue and the audience or audiences to be reached. Effective campaigns have reached specific audiences with appropriate media and consistent messages based on

extensive pretesting and often the mass media messages have been supplemented with some form efface-to-face or interpersonal communication (Rogers & Storey, 1987). Health educators have begun to learn that effective use of the mass media requires planning, research, and consideration of the environment in which the media are used.