Why are some Social Marketing ads so boring?

adsOf course, there are some really great health-promoting advertisements around. Some are well designed, snazzy, well target – but unfortunately, more often than not, adverts promoting healthy behaviours are beyond lacklustre. Go to your local GP surgery, and you’ll probably be amazed at the amount of flyers you can pick up that seem to have been designed by one of the admin staff on their coffee break (even if that is probably not the case). Compare that to most commercial advertising, emphasising how much better one can live after buying product X, and directly speaking to the target audience. On a recent trip to my GP (family practitioner for those who are not in the UK), I picked up a leaflet about physical activity – as far as I can see produced by the local NHS trust. When I read in it that “physical activity is scientifically proven to decrease the chances of heart desease” – my first thought was that it almost read like one of those health warnings on tobacco packs a few years ago. I was starting to wonder if they were trying to make physical activity attractive – or turn me off it completely? Digging a bit more deeply I found out that the SMOG index for the leaflet was 12 – meaning it was at the level of an A-level student. Quite high really, especially for an inner-city borough of London.

Just how much could the effectiveness of these flyers and adverts be improved by just a bit more work on them? Maybe making them a bit more interesting, easier to read – and above all emphasising more “glamorous” outcomes – rather than reading like a health warning! Particularly, marketers know that people with lower educational levels respond particularly well to a range of visceral clues in advertising: using visual priming (such as before and after pictures), vivid displays of rewards (such as testimonials) and focusing on the proximity of rewards, by making specific time claims. Unfortunately, none of the leaflets I could locate used these – at all. Even the much touted Change4Life posters, while much more colourful, and generally appealing – read a little more like a serious newspaper. But if they are addressing a tabloid oriented audience – will broadsheet language and style really work?

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