By Saudamini Das
Advertisements in the public media for bringing about behavioural changes in people is a widely resorted strategy for public authorities. There are numerous examples in public policy, such as efforts to influence smoking habits, cholesterol consumption, condom use, the immunization of children, protection from dengue, malaria, or to enhance knowledge on the different aspects of health. Studies have shown a positive effect of such interventions on health-related behaviour in many cases, though there are also numerous examples where intended behavioural changes are not observed. Usually, public authorities use multiple media like newspapers, TV, radio, mobile SMS, social media, and these studies measure the combined effect of all these media channels.
The question arises: are all types of media equally effective in changing behaviour, or does people’s processing of the message depend on the type of media used for dissemination?
My study published in the “World Development” journal on the 10th of August 2016, examined this question in the context of the heat waves awareness campaign launched in Odisha, India. Heat waves are periods of unusually hot and humid weather that last for at least two to three days and this extreme weather is responsible for the deaths of many people around the world.
Steps to Follow
In the eastern Indian state of Odisha, for instance, approximately 2,000 people died in a heat wave in 1998. In 2015, heat waves hit a number of states in India, including Delhi, with the death toll exceeding 2,500. Since 2010, such casualties have become more regular in many states in India. However, only two states in India have implemented heat wave management plans so far, the state of Odisha since 2003 and state of Gujarat since 2010.
In Gujarat, the heat action plan has mainly been implemented in the city of Ahmedabad, whereas in Odisha, the entire state has been covered under a number of awareness campaigns that alert people to the dangers posed by heat waves and provide advice on how people should protect themselves. Over the years, between 14-20 newspapers, 4 radio channels, and 6 television channels, along with posters, pamphlets, etc., have been used by the government to disseminate information, education and communication (IEC) material on heat waves.
The Most Effective Medium Of All
Though such programs started in 2003 when the Disaster Risk Management program was implemented in the state, the campaign has been intensified since 2007 with the use of multiple types of public media. Print media was used more in the initial years, but later on, electronic media, especially radio channels, were used more and more intensively.
The figure given below shows how the use of media for heat wave management by the government departments has changed over the years. As the death toll per heat-wave day went down in the state, the study investigated if the reduction in deaths can be attributed to the use of media (at least partially) and if so, which type of media (newspapers, TV channels or radio channels) has been the most effective one in reducing the death toll.
The study clubbed media advertisements into print (newspapers), audio-based (radio channels) and video-based (TV channels) and investigated the relative effectiveness of these different types of media in reducing mortality with the help of econometric models. Heatwave IEC materials used in Odisha emphasize on simple behavioural changes, like not moving out during days of peak heat, eating curd rice (or pakhal bhat – the traditional ‘water rice’ eaten in the state), cucumbers, onions, etc. before going out, not going out on an empty stomach, carrying a water bottle and umbrella, and wearing cotton and light coloured clothes so that the exposure to heat goes down and people don’t suffer heat strokes. Advertisements in the media thus reduce deaths through behavioural changes. But the question as to which type of media is the most effective remains. Some of the interesting findings of the study are presented below.
The All-Pervading Radio
Results show strong evidence of television and newspaper advertisements having positive effects, but the same cannot be said for radio advertisements. Radio advertisements can reach many regions without access to TVs or newspapers. And this was the main reason for the increased emphasis on giving advertisements on the radio, as told by some Odisha government officers. It seems to be the case that these remote areas do not witness frequent heat wave-related deaths and this may have been the reason for radio advertisements not being related to any reduction in deaths
Most interestingly, the results show that repeatedly advertising on the various available media platforms has been effective in reducing deaths.
The heat-wave adverts do not seem to influence a person’s behaviour in the immediate short-run, i.e. there is no noticeable impact on a daily, weekly or even a yearly basis. Rather, what is important is repeated exposure to advertisements, which has an effect over the long-term. The informational material used in the heat wave campaigns in Odisha mainly emphasizes behavioural changes needed to avert heat strokes. This advice is probably only absorbed and acted upon, with repeated exposure, over a long period of time.
Saudamini Das is the NABARD Chair Professor at the Institute of Economic Growth
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