|It goes without saying, the objectives for public sector bodies are very different to profit-making bodies and public sector marketers must focus largely on conveying useful information and – in some cases – try to alter people’s behaviour.
This is especially true when it comes to public health, as marketing material can encourage positive lifestyle habits. This means the money spent by Public Health England (PHE) can help save considerable sums elsewhere, in particular the NHS.
But people’s sensitivities and thought processes change all the time and PHE needs to be mindful of this if it is to get its core messages across. With this in mind, the reliance on ‘shock tactics’ has faded significantly in recent years.
Sheila Mitchell, Marketing Director of PHE, noted that a hard-hitting approach was particularly common in the 1980s and 1990s, but explained the nature of it means it can’t work over and over again.
“There’s always an underlying idea that if you shock people they will be so horrified they will act,” she observed. “And if you look back at the 80s that was probably correct – shock was acceptable to some extent. But it gets harder and harder to keep shocking people. In some ways, it’s got to be new news to get their attention.”
Two-way interaction the way forward
“It’s the flagship campaign which talks about a difficult issue – how do you feed your kids?” she said. “We’ve designed the campaign so it could be open source and really flexible for lots of organisations to use it, and we have a huge number of partners. It’s also designed as a campaign that could flex itself around different government policies.”
Ms Mitchell went on to suggest that chatbots could also become a bigger part of PHE’s marketing mix, with people using them to obtain advice on issues such as how to quit smoking.
“We’re like the rest of the marketing industry,” she added. “We need to ask where is the technology taking us, and how is that relevant to getting people health advice?”
Education important, but not the entire solution
Dr Alison Tedstone, Director of Nutrition at PHE, commented: “Education is important and is always going to be part of the mix – but it’s not going to solve the obesity problem. Most children broadly know what they should be eating, but they walk out of school and go and buy a bag of chips. And then they stand at the bus stop, where advertising hoardings push more food and drink at them.”
It’s a reminder to public sector marketers, particularly those that are trying to influence day-to-day behaviour, that multiple tactics need to be deployed in order to gain a positive response. By using a multi-pronged approach, with the same message being broadcast in different ways, the chances of eliciting the desired response could increase significantly.