Doug Evans, who worked with me at Prospect Associates and AIR, is a leader in conducting research on the use of brands as a strategy in public health programs. Not logos and slogans, but for behavior change. The quest began with his pioneering work for the American Legacy Foundation and the truth campaign, and will come together with a number of like-minded professionals in a book on Brands and Public Health in the Spring 2008. Doug’s presentation at Conversations of Social Marketing covered a lot of ground – theoretical, practical and empirical here are some of the highlights from his talk.
Overview and Critical Takeaway Points
- Brands in the commercial and public health sectors add value to the relationships between products and consumers.
- Public health brands can be differentiated from commercial brands by their purposes (changing health behavior), value exchange between brand and consumer, and outcomes (health behavior change).
- Brands can apply “upstream” – such as to organizations and government policies – and “downstream” to individual behavior.
- Branding is a global social marketing strategy that has demonstrated evidence of effectiveness across cultures, country settings and topics.
- More research is needed on how public health brands work, and more brands should be developed in the public health sector.
He talked about how brands work in both the commercials and public health context. In particular he pointed the persuasive mechanisms that great brands employ including tapping into the audience’s aspiration to an appealing external ideal; modeling a socially desirable good; being associated with this idealized imagery and then delivering on this promise.
What is public health branding? He described it as associations that enhance value of health behaviors for an audience (better life as a nonsmoking, physically active, condom user); that is, public health brands are about healthy lifestyles.
How to measure brand equity in public health is an issue he and his colleagues have spent much time exploring; their data have led to the development of the Public Health Brand Equity Scale.
How can the effectiveness of brands be evaluated?
- Was the audience exposed to message?
- What were audience message reactions (message perceived as credible, likeable?)
- What associations were formed by target audience with brand?
- Is brand exposure associated with positive reactions and associations?
- Are reactions and associations related to intended behavior change?
Doug also presented some of the evidence supporting the use of brand strategies in public health including:
- Overall, social marketing has been found to be effective, but with small effect sizes in the 5–9% range (Snyder et al. 2002).
- There is limited evidence on targeted message strategies, including branded campaigns.
- Most effective branded campaigns are found in tobacco, nutrition/physical activity, HIV/STDs (Evans, et al. forthcoming).
Some of the results he cited included those of Farrelly et al. (2005) who showed that the truth campaign was associated with 22% of observed decline in youth smoking prevalence from 1999 to 2002. Siegel & Biener (2000) found that 12–13 year olds in Massachusetts exposed at baseline were less likely to progress to established smoking; no effect was found for 14–15 year olds or with exposure to radio or outdoor ads. Sly et al. (2002) documented that teens with anti-tobacco industry attitudes promoted by Florida TRUTH were 4 times less likely to initiate smoking & 13 times less likely to become established smokers.
He closed by offering some suggestions for future research efforts in this area:
- To what extent, and under what conditions, do public health brand equity effects increase over time?
- How does the relationship between PH brands and audience change over time?
- Can public health brands withstand fluctuating media buys, low exposure?
- What effects do changes in social norms and other moderators such as the media and marketing environment have on brand equity and its mediating effects?
- How can social marketers improve the effectiveness of brands in maintaining health behavior change over time?