It's a Sin: casting the public eye on public health
Marketing: a matter of life or death?
The Tombstone Campaign
‘Scaring people was deliberate … originally it was even scarier: we had metallic sirens blaring like the beginning of a nuclear war. But Thatcher thought we were overdramatising it’.
However, the big, scary advert wasn’t the only element of the campaign. Alongside the blanket awareness campaign that the ad symbolised, there were smaller campaigns that offered tailored advice to groups that could be impacted by misinformation like dentists, tattooists and hairdressers.
How does the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic compare?
There are some clear parallels between the government health campaign of the mid-80s in response to HIV and Aids and the current COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s important not to overstate these. Aside from differences in transmission, and in onset of symptoms, the government response has been significantly swifter in the case of COVID-19. Arguably the messaging around COVID-19 has been delivered without the stigma that was attached to HIV and Aids for the LGBTQ+ community, and perhaps after so many lives were impacted and destroyed by Aids, public sentiment has shifted to become more receptive to health campaigns.
One of the biggest similarities between the Aids epidemic and COVID-19 has been the problematic misinformation and muddled advice – not to mention the occasional conspiracy theory. Davies highlights the dangers of late action in It’s a Sin, and although the show leans on his personal experience of London at the time, it doesn’t seem entirely unintentional to release the show in the current climate. One similarity we see is the prevalence of outlandish conspiracy theories – much like the ideas Ritchie spells out in the show, Davies remembers widespread rumours of HIV and Aids being ‘created by the Russians, the Chinese, the Americans, … escaped from some villainous hi-tech secret laboratories (sound familiar?)’. The scale of misinformation has exploded significantly with the internet and social media at our fingertips, making combatting ‘fake news’ harder than ever for public health campaigns.
We’re also seeing public advertising that certainly follows in the footsteps of 1986’s ‘tombstone’ campaign. Albeit slightly less apocalyptic, government ads touting slogans have dominated most of 2020, including shifts from the relaxed ‘wash your hands’ to the more serious ‘stay home’ and enforcement of wearing masks. Recently, TV ads have leaned back towards scare tactics from the past, with the government’s ‘look them in the eyes’ campaign. Although it seemed there was a reluctance to impose widespread protective measures, with the UK adopting restrictions like a national lockdown later than other countries, it still seems that public health messaging has become more impactful when it comes to correcting information and providing the facts.
It’s clear that a lack of understanding around health doesn’t just contribute to widespread misinformation, but can cost lives. The characters in It’s a Sin encounter rumours in bars and conspiracy theories furthered by print newspaper, but in 2021 we have the added element of the digital space, where for many if it’s on Twitter or Facebook, it must be true.
It’s not just the government that have a responsibility to inform and warn the public when it comes to health, but also of thought leaders in the digital world that have the ability to clarify information. Even at the height of the HIV and Aids epidemic, it was the messenger, as opposed to the message, that proved most successful for changing behaviours. Separate campaigns from LGBTQ+ charities like the Terrence Higgins Trust worked to spread awareness and provide home-help, counselling and sex education before the government even considered taking action, and it’s content across social media that is working to reduce misinformation and correct conspiracy theories in our current pandemic.
How effective are your campaigns?
Creating engaging marketing campaigns can come with all sorts of complexities, like how to best segment your audience, which channels are most valuable or which messaging style will have the greatest impact. At BBI Health we have dedicated strategists, designers, digital marketers and developers with a breadth of experience in bringing content-led campaigns to life for healthcare organisations. Contact us today to find out how we can help you achieve great results on your next project.
Imagery: Red Production Company / Channel 4