Engagement and Deliverance at the CDC, Part 2

Continuing the sum-up of my experience at the CDC’s 2nd National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (Part 1 here), here are the key points from the sessions I attended on the second day…


  • Jack Wakshlag, Chief Research Officer, Turner Broadcasting Systems – Countering the prevailing wisdom that today’s media consumers are watching less and less television, he provided some statistics that surprised me. TV viewing has been rising from 2002-2007, and the average person spends 47% of their media hours with a television on. Network viewing (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) is at an all-time low, but cable channels are at a high. Even people with broadband internet are watching more TV now than five years ago, not replacing it with online video (which are more like “snacks,” averaging 2 min 12 sec, rather than longer-format programming). Even teens are watching more TV, though less than adults.

    After the session, I asked Mr. Wakshlag what I thought was the elephant in the room, which he hadn’t addressed. Increased TV viewing is great for people working in entertainment education, working to get their issues depicted on TV programming. But clearly the key reason why he is promoting the continued domination of television is to make the case for advertising when many advertisers are defecting to other media – but are people still paying attention to the commercials? With the advent of Tivo and DVRs, many have the ability to bypass the ads. He conceded that only about 50% of viewers watch the commercials, though I suppose the numbers are still big enough to make it worth it.

  • J. Walker Smith, President, Yankelovich, Inc. – Our relationships with brands are changing in a couple of different key ways. First, the culture of “dis-ownership” means that we no longer have to own something to have it (e.g., leasing, swapping, fractional ownership, piracy, etc.). Second, the culture of “responsibility” has come about from an increased emphasis on values that companies should be green, socially responsible, community-focused and purpose-driven. People see their purchases as a way of sending a message and influencing companies’ business practices. This can only happen with increased information availability, but in a pinpointed way. Enabling “narrow engagement,” with just the key pieces of information that people need to make decisions without overwhelming them, is going to be the key to making this happen.

Building Our Understanding of Health Messages Targeting Women
(I was moderating this session and didn’t take as many notes as I should have!)

  • Samantha Nazione, Michigan State University – In a study looking at breast cancer-focused websites, she found that there is not much targeting done in terms of ethnicity or language. In general, the website reading levels were too high. Websites tailored for minorities were more likely to use first-person stories about breast cancer.
  • Patrice Chamberlain, San Francisco State University – Mothers are a huge target of advertising, with 80.5 million mothers controlling 80% of household spending ($1.6 trillion purchasing power). After the internet, magazines are the second most important source of information for moms for purchasing decisions. This study looked at food and beverage ads in the top parenting publications in the US, and analyzed them in terms of the appeals they used. The most common appeals were about the healthfulness and taste of the products. Many also promised things like more family time, improved relationships with the kids, ways for moms to “do it all.” She contrasted the images with some of the nutrition-related social marketing ads that are out there, which often focus more on deficiencies or fear and guilt; we need to learn better from those with the most experience how to appeal to moms.
  • Christy Ledford, George Mason University – In looking at the websites that pharmaceutical companies have used to promote their contraceptive products, they had several common factors. Rather than promoting effectiveness as the key benefit, most touted things like convenience, other physiological benefits (e.g., reduced acne, no periods), and relative risk compared to other brands. The risks were always in tiny text at the bottom of the page, and only one site out of the ten presented the “black box” warning that was required in other media. The sites did not make clear that they were advertising, often appearing to be educational, with the pharmaceutical company or division’s name in an obscure location. And the URLs usually consisted of a message, rather than the product’s name (e.g., onceamonth.com). While there is currently no regulations regarding online direct-to-consumer advertising, most of these sites violate current DTC regulations for other media.

Health Marketing Strategies: Segmentation, Tailoring and Targeting
(Unfortunately, I missed the first speaker in this panel.)

  • Leslie Snyder, University of Connecticut – A meta-analysis of interventions that tailored their communications to audience members found (not surprisingly) that tailored interventions were more effective in bringing about health behavior change than non-tailored interventions. She gave an example of tailored calendars to promote childhood immunizations, which included a picture of the child and his/her name, along with key dates like his/her birthday, required shots based on the birthdate, and the phone number of the nearest clinic to their house. Tailored interventions have a similar effect size to media campaigns, and because the effect declines over time should have a “booster activity” done at about three months post-intervention. Did you know that the University of Connecticut has a Center for Health Communication and Marketing? I didn’t.
  • Adam Barry, Texas A&M University – This was a very exploratory study (only 13 participants) regarding how college students interpret the message to “drink responsibly,” since there is no universally accepted definition of responsible drinking. With responses like no drinking and driving, knowing your limits, pacing your drinking, and planning ahead, there is a lot of room for negative consequences. For example, the students said you can’t know your personal limits until you go past them, and as long as you don’t black out or throw up, you are within the limits. In monitoring your drinking, by the time you notice the effects, your judgment is already gone. If you pace your drinking (e.g., one drink/hour) you can still get drunk because your body does not metabolize one drink an hour. Even the designated driver concept often gets ignored because it’s like a “punishment” for the one who is not allowed to drink. We have to be careful in the messages we put out there, because some can be dangerous if misinterpreted or misapplied.

Peer-to-Peer Communications

  • Scott Shamp, University of Georgia (and others) – For National HIV Testing Day, UGA’s New Media Institute, along with partners Verizon, CDC, Danya International and Nokia, recruited 23 students from universities in the Southeast to come together to create what they called “Personal Public Service Announcements” (PPSAs). These were short videos created on cell phones all in the course of one day. Guided by experts, the students learned about HIV/AIDS, about filmmaking and how to use the technology. After coming up with their plans and having them approved by a CDC panel for accuracy, they were divided into remote teams, who shot the footage and then immediately sent it back to the producers who edited it into short videos. They shot 22 videos, and eight of them were used in the final set. They were distributed online in places like YouTube, MySpace, and blogs (e.g., Osocio), as well as on cell phone networks. They all included the KNOWIT SMS code, to which viewers could text their zip code to receive the testing location nearest them.
  • Sarah Diamond, The Institute for Community Research – The Xperience project trained vocal artists ages 14-25 about drug and alcohol prevention, while also helping them create and record a song, rap or spoken piece about the issue. These pieces were then compiled into a CD and performed at a concert. In research to determine the effect of these peer-created messages on the listeners, she found that when the lyrics were “loss-framed” (e.g., negative effects of drugs), males and females related better to the same-sex artists, and the males responded more in general. The “gain-framed” lyrics (e.g., “you can do it,” “things will be better”) appealed to both genders.

Unfortunately, I was not able to stay for the third day of the conference, but perhaps others have posted their notes for other sessions on the Ning group created for the conference. As with many conferences, though, the personal connections made with old and new friends were even more of a highlight than the sessions themselves.

In other CDC-related news, make sure you sign up for the upcoming Web Dialogue on Web 2.0 and Health Marketing co-sponsored by CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing and WestEd. It will be a one-day asynchronous discussion on September 16th about how to use social media technologies in social marketing and public health. I will be a panelist, along with Fard Johnmar and Craig Lefebvre (so far). I can see by those who have already registered to participate that many of my very smart online friends will be there, so it should be a rollicking good time where we’ll all learn from each other. Make sure you sign up too!

And another piece of exciting news comes from Jay Bernhardt, the director of the NCHM:

The CDC National Center for Health Marketing is developing a national network of leaders dedicated to applying the power of marketing, communication, and partnerships to improve the health of individuals, families, and communities in the US and throughout the world. This network of individual leaders and organizations, called the Health Marketing Leadership Roundtable will strive to advance the field of health marketing science and practice, educate and inform partners and stakeholders on the value of health marketing for improving people’s health, and receive key updates on health marketing activities from CDC and others throughout the field of public health.

Whatever gets us closer to formalizing ways to advance the social marketing field and brings practitioners together is a good thing. I look forward to seeing where this goes!

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