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In honor of National Public Health Week, I thought I would highlight some public health campaigns.

I love me a good public health campaign.

Like reeeeeeaaaaallllly love.

Nothing gets me more fist pumped up than a clever, thought provoking, eye opening public health campaign. Except maybe a new crochet pattern. Oh! I love new crochet patterns!!!!!! -Look at all those exclamation points. That’s how much I love new crochet patterns. I love awesome public health campaigns this much !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Unfortunately, not all public health campaigns are clever, thought provoking or relevant. Some are poorly designed, strange and downright offensive. At least to my biased eye.

So, without much more humoristic lead in (actually it’s not that humoristic. Sorry about that) here is Katie’s review of some public health campaigns (mostly ads but some full campaigns as well).

The Good, the Bad and the WTF?

The Good.


2013-2014 Pennsylvania Flu Campaign.

The Good!

This public health campaign from Pennsylvania is excellent. The slogan “Earn Your Stripe!” is followed by a tag line of: myth dispelled, truths dispensed.

What I love about it:

It has a diverse cast of healthcare and administration workers. The audience can easily put themselves in place of one of the characters and see themselves getting a flu shot.

The stripe is the Band-Aid but it conveys a sense of importance and civic duty. What do you think about when you see that slogan with the 5 stars above it? MILITARY! So, by getting the flu shot, you are doing your civic duty for the American people. You too can be a 5 star general with your Band-Aid!

The tag line is great:

myths dispelled, truths dispensed

We all know the myths: the flu shot will give you the flu, the flu shot will make you sick, the flu shot is the government’s way of controlling you, the flu is no big deal.

This campaign wants to give you a flu shot AND the truth! I love it.

What I don’t really like about it but whatever:

The cast is all healthcare centric. Yes, it’s diverse but it’s obviously set in a hospital with hospital workers getting their shots. It sorta limits the audience. It’s totally possible that this was designed for a campaign targeting healthcare workers. I’ve seen campaigns like that before. Also, earn your stripes has been used by Kellogs to promote Tony the Tiger and Frosted Flakes (sugary cereal).

The Bad

obesity campaign

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. This campaign is no longer in use.

What I hate about it:

The poster doesn’t make you think about how you are contributing to childhood obesity, it’s judging you. It’s saying, “you are a terrible parent for making your child fat and they will be doomed to a life of fatness and death!” To the child it is saying, “you are a fat kid and you will be a fat adult. There is no hope for you.” It’s a basic fear and shame tactic that makes me sad.

bad 3

This campaign is no longer being used.

What I sort of like about it:

The kids are unhappy. It’s like they are demanding change. “Hey, parent, I’m not too happy with this situation, let’s do something about it.” I can dig the read warning labels and the overall font style minus the overall message.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta came to their senses and came out with a new public health campaign that is a lot more actionable. See here: http://www.strong4life.com/pages/LearnAssess/BreakingBadHabits/BreakingBadHabits.aspx

The Good

DrowningInSugar copy

Rethink Your Drink campaign from Santa Clara County.

On a similar note, here is another campaign targeting childhood obesity. Notice the difference?

What I like about it:

Instead of shaming the child and parent, the campaign focuses on facts: sugary drinks contribute to obesity and diabetes, by reducing or eliminating them, you are protecting your child. Good parent! The kid is just as unhappy as the other kids and look at that all those sugary drinks behind her! Save her!!!!!!! Give her water!!!!!!

The ad also has a call to action. Give them water, not sugary drinks.

The Bad

bad ph campaign

Oh look! Another judgment advertisement.

What I hate about it:

As if women did not stress about their looks enough, this photo pokes fun at the lovehandles. Also notice the website, choosetolivebetter.com. By using the word choose, the agency is blaming every woman with a waistline over 32 inches. It’s your fault ladies! Yes, sometimes it is because of excessive eating but sometimes it’s just genetics. Then there is all the science behind the roles poverty, neighborhood design, pollution and schools have in obesity. Let’s just ignore that and focus on shame.

What I love about it:


The WTF? 

bad campaign

This advertisement from France is both awesome and disturbing at the same time.

The kneeling position of the kid shows subservience. The child’s eyes are trusting yet worried.

The hand on the head shows dominance.

The older man, younger boy theme screams that tobacco companies are pedophiles who prey on the weaknesses of the young, exploiting them and forever holding dominance over them.

Which is pretty much the truth but in a very uncomfortable way. Which is why I love it and hate it.

The Good

good campagin

Why I like it:

It’s simple, it’s visual, it’s social and a little viral.

Check this little guy out. This sticker is part of a campaign from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. It’s a little bit of gorilla guerilla marketing. Public health graduate students put these stickers on things that represent public health. For example, placing the sticker on a water fountain because clean drinking water is just a little important (John Snow anyone?).

Plus, it lends itself to this meme.


The Good

unexpected ph

City of Chicago’s Unexpected Campaign.

Whoa! What?

A pregnant boy?

Does it make you squemish? Does it make you want to turn away? Does it make you think about teen pregnancy? Good! This is brilliantly done! This particular ad targets teens (especially teen boys) to use protection or wait. I wish it also addressed birth control but it’s a start.

I love that he looks a little ashamed and depressed. You can almost hear sad trumpets playing in the background. Waahhhhh  Waaaah  Waaaaaah

And now….. For the Awesome!!!!

best ph campagin

Zombie preparedness was the accidental marketing campaign of CDC’s Office of Preparedness and Response Director, Dr. Khan. It started as a blog that pointed out if you can prepare for Zombies, you can prepare for anything.

What I love about it:

It’s relevant on so many levels. It’s the perfect mix of opportunities.

With the popularity of AMC’s The Walking Dead, pop culture embracing zombies and the perfect platform to go viral, we are talking about a perfect storm.

Dr. Khan’s blog wasn’t meant to launch a new marketing program, but it did. That’s the beauty of it. It was accidental, organic and relevant. Since then, it has evolved into a full preparedness campaign complete with social media and a novella. What’s novella? A graphic short novel that targets young readers. It harkens back to the origins of The Walking Dead: a comic still in production.


You thought I was done, but I’m not. How could I write about public health campaigns and not include one of the best ones ever! That’s right folks. I’m talking about Riester Robb’s most excellent, award winning, gross out tobacco campaign. Unfortunately, I don’t have a link for this awesome campaign (it’s too old) but many of you in Arizona can still quote this tag line.


Tobacco, tumor causing, teeth staining, smelly, puking habit. (a little tear comes to my eye when I think about it).

Take away:

Marketing public health doesn’t have to be shocking, shameful or blaming. It does need to be clever, thought provoking and relevant. The target market segment should walk away with either awareness or a call to action, not shame and helplessness. There is plenty of marketing science to back me up here. Shaming never works, it drives your audience away, reduces self-esteem and isolates government. Instead of being a partner for change, we become the large figure wagging a condescending finger. “Shame on you!”

Don’t jump forward on a campaign just because it is shocking and you want to shake up your community. Do research your target market, find their motivators and position your product (campaign, ad, whatever) where they will receive it. Build relationships early and become the trusted brand.

Above all, be relevant, step down from the podium and put away your wagging finger.

If all else fails, try a little humor.

should be a campgaing

Actually a T-shirt from Woot.