Health Marketing, Risk Communication, and the Media
Remember the Great Influenza Vaccine Shortage a few years back?
Panic swept the nation after the FDA rejected many European flu shots because of possible contamination during manufacturing. What was left was rationed according to age and risk factors, and the public could be seen every night on the news waiting in long lines to get the remaining doses.
Now, setting aside for the moment the ongoing questions regarding the usefulness of flu shots in any age group, especially the elderly, one might come to wonder what has changed in recent years to bring about this new terror regarding influenza.
The answer, as outlandish and implausible as it might sound, is that this fear has been manufactured and marketed by the people in public health.
Getting Ready for 2004-2005:
[Including the Seven-Step Recipe for
Generating Interest in,
and Demand for, Flu
(or any other) Vaccination]
And here you see what the CDC’s “recipe” entails…
“Recipe” that Fosters Higher Interest and
and Demand for Influenza Vaccine (1)
1. Influenza’s arrival coincides with immunization “season” (i.e., when people can take action)
2. Dominant strain and/or initial cases of disease are:
–Associated with severe illness and/or outcomes
–Occur among people for whom influenza is not generally perceived to cause serious complications (e.g., children, healthy adults, healthy seniors)
–In cities and communities with significant media outlets (e.g., daily newspapers, major TV stations)
3. Medical experts and public health authorities publicly (e.g., via media) state concern and alarm (and predict dire outcomes)–and urge influenza vaccination.
4. The combination of ‘2’ and ‘3’ result in:
A. Significant media interest and attention
B. Framing of the flu season in terms that motivate behavior (e.g., as “very severe,” “more severe than last or past years,” “deadly”)
5. Continued reports (e.g., from health officials and media) that influenza is causing severe illness and/or affecting lots of people–helping foster the perception that many people are susceptible to a bad case of influenza.
6. Visible/tangible examples of the seriousness of the illness (e.g., pictures of children, families of those affected coming forward) and people getting vaccinated (the first to motivate, the latter to reinforce)
7. References to, and discussions, of pandemic influenza–along with continued reference to the importance of vaccination.
This is considered “communication” by people who work in public health. Reasonable people in the public being “communicated” to might wonder at what point this type of communication crosses the line into “fearmongering”, but we’ll leave that for the reader to decide.
In our recent articles on the exaggerated benefits (based on CDC “scientific research”) of the immunization program (which is run by the CDC) we noted that the flurry of of news reports quoting a supposed 33,000 lives saved a year by vaccines, was likely the result of a CDC press release.
Here (link is currently broken, sorry) you can read a bit about how the “health marketers” think and operate:
“Misperceptions, Raw Emotions, Potent Strategies: Working with Traditional and New Media to Promote the Facts about Vaccine Safety”
The next slide is about pay versus earned media, and both [unintelligible] to be used. Paid media is when you’re paying for something to be placed in print, regular TV, or even online, so it’s advertising. It’s the one kind of way that you can really control the content of what you’re saying, because you’re paying for something to be placed exactly as you’re positioning it
Earner media, however, is free exposure. It gives more credibility. It’s something that’s written in the newspaper, so people believe it more. It’s on television. It’s not been paid for. But when you are using earned media, you really are giving up your full control. You don’t have full control over what is being said or written about.
The next slide is how to get your story out. The most important thing to do, the first thing you need to do, is to create a solid media plan with goals and objectives, an observation of your situation. What are people saying in your community? How are parents feeling about vaccinations? What is the coverage like? What are the media saying? Who are your target audiences?
So who are your audiences? Certainly the media is a key audience and parents concerned and/or or need for childhood vaccines is your primary audience. In working towards conveying your information to them, you want a media strategy with just the right mix to meet your objectives, so you want a combination of earned media and paid advertising, feature stories.
So if the stories you see in the news sometimes strike you as scripted to persuade you to vaccinate your child, you’d be correct.
Here’s another example of “communicating” about vaccines, from the full text of this.
Yes, that’s right…the only point of the communication is to compel you to perform the “behavioral objective” (aka – consent to immunization). That’s the desired “health behavior”.
So what compels people to perform behavioral objectives?
Here we can read:
Risky Business: Challenges in Vaccine Risk Communication
In addition the acceptability of a risk is determined by whether it induces fear or dread and whether it is memorable
And that “fear” and “dread” we’re supposed to feel to achieve the behavioral objective of vaccinating our kids, on time, every shot, on schedule, is quite obviously the cornerstone of the much used “seven step recipe for generating interest in, and demand for, vaccines” (influenza and otherwise.)
So when you see something alarming in the news about a disease, make mental note of if it fits “the recipe”. As much as it might look like science or news, it could very well be marketing.