Conversation as a Health Education Tool

Many people may not realize it, but the goal of many health campaigns is to simply get the audience to talk about the health issue with others. By starting small conversations, these campaigns hope to change seemingly immense health problems.

A study on tropes, tools used to spark conversation among an audience, by Hoeken, Swanepoel, Saal, and Jansen (2009) says that successful ads are so visible they become as unavoidable as the weather. Therefore, people begin to talk about them as “fodder, as a safe topic, to start a conversation.” By making ads so prevalent people are nearly forced to discuss them they are more likely to make an impact in people’s lives.

Some tropes that are used to start conversations are metaphors or ellipses. These methods let viewers/listeners interpret messages on their own. By presenting information or doing an ad in such a way that the audience has to interpret the information in a new or unexpected way, they may have “self-congratulatory feelings” for “solving the riddle.” Also, in order to show off one’s knowledge, one may be more likely to spark a conversation about the ad with others to demonstrate said knowledge of their interpretation of the message.

One particularly striking ad last year was the #thedress domestic violence campaign with the Salvation Army of South Africa. You can see more about this campaign HERE. They chose to use this dress controversy to spread awareness and information about domestic violence and human trafficking.

“Why is it so hard to see black and blue,” and “the only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in six women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.” A phone number for support is also included.

Many people had heard about this silly #thedress controversy over whether the dress appeared to be black and blue or white and gold. So when the Salvation Army released an ad with their message, “why is it so hard to see black and blue,” I’m sure that people who had heard about the controversy, then saw this ad, felt that they had some extra knowledge than some others who may not have know about #thedress. Feeling knowledgeable about the silly controversy and then seeing this ad may have influenced people to talk to others about it. It seemed like a pretty interesting ad to me, and I think their ad is a perfect example of using a trope to spark conversation to increase public health and awareness.

Below is another ad with a metaphorical-type message (link). Many people have the knowledge that second-hand smoke is harmful, however, this ad seeks to put pressure on those in contact with children to think about the consequences to them. It says “some children get to heaven earlier,” with a halo of smoke implying that second-hand smoke causes children to “get to heaven earlier.” I chose this ad to highlight the negative consequences of some ads.

“Some children get to heaven earlier” antismoking ad by the Child Health Foundation of Munich, Germany.

Some ads may have unintended side effects like public backlash or outrage if a message like this inspires strong emotions. Although it may have sparked some conversation among viewers of the ad, if an ad doesn’t help to move people toward action it is intrinsically useless.

Tropes can be useful tools if the audience and their reactions are considered when planning health communication campaigns to ensure the most effective outcomes. It is great to find creative ways to educate and motivate people to change health behaviors, but if the audience is too overcome by negative emotions to discuss the ad in a practical way, or there are no immediate outlets for information to receive help (such as help quitting smoking), people will not be receptive to the message and it could do more harm than good.