14.1 Mass media public education campaigns: an overview

Contributor: Trish Cotter, September 2011


Mass media campaigns for tobacco control generally use commercial marketing techniques to influence the knowledge, attitudes and ultimately the behaviours of individuals, groups, organisations and society as a whole.1 This marketing approach is often referred to as 'social marketing'. Unlike commercial marketing approaches, where the beneficiary is the originator or shareholder, social marketing campaigns are designed to benefit the recipient of the message.

Mass media campaigns work directly to change behaviour. Large proportions of populations are exposed to messages designed to affect individuals' decision-making.2 Mass media campaigns can also operate indirectly, by setting an agenda for interpersonal and public discussion that can lead to changes in social norms or public policy.2

Mass media campaigns have been used since the 1970s and are now viewed within comprehensive tobacco-control programs as essential for promoting prevention as well as motivating and encouraging smokers to quit. These campaigns also increase community understanding and recognition of the harms associated with tobacco smoking and facilitate policy initiatives to reduce this harm.

Media campaigns are expensive to produce and broadcast, and effective campaigns need medical, behavioural and marketing expertise to ensure that their content is scientifically accurate and their presentation effective.2 Formative research identifies and defines campaign goals and objectives and informs the development of creative executions for pre-testing, production and implementation. The choice of media channel and frequency of airing are equally important, to ensure the target population sees the material often enough for it to be remembered and acted upon.

Evidence from controlled field experiments and population studies conducted by investigators in many countries shows that anti-tobacco mass media campaigns can reduce tobacco use.3–5

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1. Donovan R and Henley N. Social marketing. Principles and practice. Melbourne, Australia: IP Communications, 2003.

2. Jamrozik K. Population strategies to prevent smoking. British Medical Journal 2004;328(7442):759–62. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15044295

3. National Cancer Institute. Part 4–Tobacco control and media interventions. Monograph 19: the role of the media in promoting and reducing tobacco use. Bethesda, Maryland: US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, 2008;429–546. Available from: http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/tcrb/monographs/19/index.html

4. Wakefield M, Durkin S, Spittal M, Siahpush M, Scollo M, Simpson J, et al. Impact of tobacco control policies and mass media campaigns on monthly adult smoking prevalence: time series analysis. American Journal of Public Health 2008;98:1443−50. Available from: http://www.ajph.org/cgi/content/abstract/98/8/1443

5. Durkin S, Brennan E and Wakefield M. Mass media campaigns to promote smoking cessation among adults: an integrative review.Tobacco Control 2012;21(2) 127–38. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/21/2/127?etoc