February 4, 2009

Public Health Branding Valuable to Health Communication Campaigns

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Jonathan Blitstein
Jonathan Blitstein

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—Public health branding is a growing component of the social marketing approach, one that has been applied in a broad range of health communication campaigns, according to researchers at George Washington University, RTI International, and the National Cancer Institute.

The study, published in the December issue of Journal of Health Communication, reviewed 37 studies from four continents on branding or brands in health promotion marketing. The researchers found that not only were there a large number of mass media campaigns concerning public health but that community outreach and community mobilization activities used branding strategies as well.

"This study illustrates the versatility of public health branding as an approach that can be applied through multiple channels, at multiple socioecological levels, to reach audiences and effect behavior change," said Jonathan Blitstein, Ph.D., a research psychologist at RTI and the study's co-author. "Well-funded areas such as tobacco control and HIV/AIDS have contributed a large number of the existing brand health campaigns, and now the strategy is expanding into new areas of public health."

The authors cited one public health area in which branding appears to be growing is nutrition and the communication of nutrition behavior.

In general, the researchers found that branded health messages span most of the major fields of prevention and health promotion, including chronic and infectious disease prevention and promotion of protective behaviors. The study also calls upon those developing and applying brand strategies to engage in more rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of their campaigns.

The findings of this study are also reflected in a new book Public Health Branding: Applying Marketing for Social Change edited by Douglas Evans and Gerard Hastings and published by Oxford University Press.

The book includes contributions written by Blitstein; Kevin Davis; Matthew Farrelly, Ph.D.; Jim Hersey, Ph.D; Megan Lewis, Ph.D.; and Lauren McCormack, Ph.D., of RTI.