Public Health England utilises many different marketing campaigns in order to promote health and wellbeing. From healthy eating campaigns and encouraging smokers to quit in order to improve lifestyle to awareness campaigns surrounding what to do in the event of witnessing someone having a stroke and cancer signs. They have a whole host of different drives in place to help make England a healthier place.

However, how useful are public health campaigns? As the campaigns are government-funded and are beginning to cost an increasing amount, it comes into question how valuable they are at making a change and improving the general population’s health.

Research carried out by an analysis from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab examined the messages put out in public health campaigns and discovered that the more positive the message, the better an effect it has. Campaigns that aim to scare the public into submission might be impactful, but the research showed that these kinds of campaigns only really worked well when shown to industry experts, not the general public.

Anti-smoking campaigns, which often put much more emphasis on the negative consequences of smoking, therefore, are going to be deemed less useful. Despite many of them showing hard-hitting scenarios, such as Public Health England’s Health Harms campaign, which shows the effects the poisons of cigarettes have when they hit a smoker’s bloodstream, the research suggests that actually, looking at the positives of not smoking would be much more successful. Messages such as: ‘If you quit smoking you could save £2,000 a year’ would therefore be deemed much more useful.

The general public responded much more strongly to campaigns with a positive message – which could explain why campaigns such as Public Health England’s ‘Change4Life’ have achieved so much success. This campaign focuses around children making healthy food swaps and being more active in order to feel better. The overall campaign has a very happy-go-lucky, positive spin to it and this is probably why Change4Life has gone on to win awards, launch sub-brands and raise awareness about childhood obesity and the importance of healthy eating.

Therefore, when public health campaigns promote a positive message, evidence suggests that they have a much higher success rate and so should be deemed useful when promoted in this way. However, more negative campaigns have less of an effect.