Health Communication

W. Douglas Evans

in Public Health

ISBN: 9780199756797
Published online February 2011 | | DOI:
Health Communication


Communication and marketing are broad, interdisciplinary fields that draw from disciplines such as psychology, economics, sociology, business, public policy, and media studies. Health communication and marketing focus on the application of these disciplines to changing health-promoting and disease-preventing behaviors. This article cites leading works that have shaped theory, practice, and research in health communication and marketing. Schiavo 2007 (see Introductory Works) broadly defines health communication as the study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence decisions that enhance health. Kotler and Andreasen 2003 (see Textbooks and Reference Resources) suggests that social marketing differs from other areas of marketing only with respect to the marketer’s objectives and those of the organization. Social marketing seeks to benefit the target audience and society rather than the marketer. Communication channels for health information changed dramatically in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The old paradigm of a one-way channel to disseminate information has given way to a multimode transactional model of communication. Social marketers are now faced with challenges, such as increases in the number and types of health issues competing for the public’s attention, significant limitations on people’s time, and an increase in the number and types of communication channels, including mobile phones and the Internet. Communication research has shown that using a multimodal approach is the most effective way to reach health audiences. Communication and marketing rely heavily on lessons drawn from the commercial sector. Commercial firms have greater resources, longer time horizons for brand and other promotional campaigns, and more than a century of success in building the consumer economy. Health communicators and social marketers have adapted techniques such as branding of behaviors and competitor analysis (where competitors may be unhealthful behaviors or unhealthful commercial products or services) from the commercial sector. Combined with the power of digital media to build awareness of messages, these commercial strategies are the future of health communication and marketing. Using these techniques, health communication and marketing can target not only individual behavior but also public policy. Social marketing in tobacco control, for example, has been used to promote policy change and new legislation, leading to changes in social norms and the acceptability of smoking. Public health organizations use branding strategies to promote social mobilization and to influence public debate and opinion. Whether to focus on individual behavior or larger policy issues involves a strategic decision by the communicator or marketer, on the basis of available resources and competition for public attention.

Article.  5662 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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