The pandemic and the challenge of behaviour change
A well-crafted social marketing campaign can help address the crisis and even prepare for future disease outbreaks
- The science of social marketing uses known marketing principles and behaviour change theory to influence people’s behaviour for the benefit of both the target audience and of society.
- Public health, safety and environmental concerns are some of the areas where social marketing can have huge impact.
- The Health Belief Model (HBM), suggests that a person’s health-related behaviours ultimately stem from the desire to avoid illness.
- The two most important constructs of the model are: perceived benefits — the effectiveness of actions available to reduce the threat of the disease, and perceived barriers — the obstacles to performing a recommended health action.
- The model also recognises the importance of “cues to action” or triggers which set into motion the process of adopting the desired behaviours.
- The HBM presumes that knowledge or education alone is grossly insufficient to change a person’s behaviour.
The Indian example
- India is one of the few countries that appears to have recognised the power of deliberately crafted emotive cues to action such as the Prime Minister’s call for a voluntary “Janata Curfew”, exhorting citizens to show that they care for themselves and their loved ones, and to display their patriotism.
- Fear, patriotism and gratitude, even if they were effective as “initiating” cues to action, were insufficient to sustain behaviour change and needed to be periodically rekindled.
- Going back to the main constructs of the HBM, to be effective, the social marketing message would present the benefits as applying direct to the individual, not just indirectly to society at large.
- And, messaging about barriers should not make the change appear too difficult to engage in or make the cost of adopting the behaviours appear too high.
- In the 1970s, Bangladesh undertook an ambitious family planning campaign keeping in mind the country’s limited resources.
- Research showed that while the women were able to readily see the benefits, the men, who were the decision makers at home, could not.
- The campaign became successful after social marketers decided to empower women by making female contraceptives available through women rural medical practitioners who made house calls.
- The marketers also designed a communications programme directed at men highlighting benefits such as better health for their wives, thereby enabling them to look after their husbands and children better.