5 best practices for effective health promotion campaigns

Can advertising help solve the most complex challenges facing our communities and our loved ones?

The answer is yes.

Compelling, persuasive, and well-planned campaigns can be highly effective tools for raising public awareness about tough topics.

When they’re done right, public awareness campaigns to reduce stigma, keep people safe, and encourage healthy behaviour change can have a real impact—making it easier to start difficult conversations, encouraging more compassionate responses, and ultimately helping to make life a little bit better for more people.

At NOW, it’s the kind of work we love doing. And we know how important it is to get it right.

From reducing the stigma associated with addiction and substance use, to taking steps to stop gender-based violence, reducing tobacco use, discouraging texting-and-driving, and raising public awareness of toxic drugs, we’ve built campaigns that tackle difficult topics with care. And we’re constantly learning from our experience—and from the best behaviour change campaigns around the world.

Here are 5 of the best practices for developing effective campaigns to promote the health and well-being of our entire communities.

1. Know your audience.

It’s the best advice for any campaign. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to make every decision along the way—from messaging, to creative, to campaign tactics.

And it’s even more important advice when it comes to developing a behaviour change and health promotion campaign. It’s vital to focus on who the audience is and how they can be reached in the places, spaces, and moments when it’s possible to make a meaningful connection.

2. Listen carefully and learn everything you can.

Every campaign should be informed by research. But health promotion and behaviour change campaigns always need to be grounded in a comprehensive research plan incorporating evidence-based best practices and extensive qualitative research with the campaign’s key audiences.

Focus groups are a vital way to hear how people talk about the issues, to learn about people’s lived experiences, and to gauge people’s emotional responses. And for conversations that require even greater time and depth, discovery sessions and interviews are invaluable tools to better understand the heart of the issue and its nuances.

Listening carefully to the audience and learning from people’s experiences is essential to building a campaign that can deliver the right message—in the right tone. And, most importantly, make it possible for the audience to see their own lives reflected in the campaign.

3. Tell stories with the power to move people.

Stories have the power to move us. They shape our sense of the world. And make it possible to start to understand the complexities of life and human experience.

Instead of instructing people what to do (or not to do), behaviour change campaigns often work best when they harness the power of storytelling to reach—and connect—with the audience.

What are the stories that aren’t being told? What story would be helpful for more people to hear? And what is the story that your organization—whether it’s a government, health authority, or labour union—is uniquely placed to help share with more people?

4. Show solutions and give people hope.

The problems facing our communities—and our world—are dire. And we can all use a good dose of hope.

Campaigns that successfully move people’s minds and shift people’s behaviours don’t just focus on the problem.

They show that solutions are possible.

They might give people tangible tools, show that there are answers to even the toughest problems, or raise awareness of investments and programs that make it possible for more people to get the support, resources, and care they need.

Finding effective, succinct, and compelling ways to share those solutions is an essential part of the challenge of building a compelling behaviour change campaign.

5. Meet people where they’re at.

Media tactics are constantly changing. But the guiding principle remains consistent.

An effective health promotion campaign needs to meet the audience where they’re at.

From tried-and-true tactics to innovative new tools, understanding the audience makes it possible to develop a robust media plan that puts the message in front of the right people at the right moments.

Every campaign has a different audience and offers unique opportunities to reach the audience. From a robust out-of-home and digital presence to partnerships with sports ambassadors and influencers, a well-planned behaviour change campaign will find innovative ways to show up in the lives of the people we want to reach.

Want to explore how to develop effective behaviour change campaigns on complex issues? Give our team a call. We’re always here to learn with you—and to build great campaigns for good causes.