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6 Tips for Successful Awareness Campaigns

“What good is Raising Awareness?” That’s the title of an article in the Atlantic about public health awareness campaigns, citing statistics and debating the effectiveness of increasing awareness through public campaigns. There are numerous other takes on the same issue, both pro and con, with opinions and charts supporting all points of view. They work. They work to some degree. They do nothing. They actually do damage.

Some people even express the notion that by talking about the prevalence of an issue, it normalizes it and/or validates the behavior— “everyone’s doing it”. Yet some stats around raising awareness of issues are difficult to argue with:

When Lady Gaga performed “Til It Happens to You” at the recent Oscars, pledges to the It’s On Us (sexual assault)campaign increased from a typical 4,000 per week to 37,401 according to Adweek and Billboard.                


At McKnight Kurland we have been engaged in planning and developing awareness campaigns for many years now, and are convinced that when planned appropriately and executed correctly, their value is indisputable. We believe—as with any communications effort—that making the messaging relevant and relatable, along with emotionally resonant, makes people take note. A post from the Science of Us though titled ‘Awareness is Overrated’ makes the point well:

“…connecting the behavior change in question to some key part of a patient’s identity is what matters. “We have found that when people start reciting core values that they have in their life, or start thinking about very purposeful motives in their life that are very intrinsic motives to them — like, ‘I want to be a good father,’ ‘I want to be a good husband,’ ‘I want to be in control of my life,’ ‘I care a lot about my community’ — whatever those things are that are very transcending, purposeful issues, those actually motivate people to change,”…

Having created many successful campaigns, we have developed a few knowledge nuggets regarding public awareness campaigns and how we approach them for maximized success:

1)  It is still about best practices communications: know your target audience, choose appropriate communications channels, and be succinct in your messaging.

2)  Successful campaigns are grounded in extensive and thorough planning.

3)  The ‘public’ is not homogeneous—your audience will divide into multiple segments with unique perspectives and information needs. Speak specifically to each and reach them through appropriate methods and channels.

4)  Keep awareness actionable. Offer help and hope as well as direction and even physical elements when possible (think free condoms for HIV/AIDS awareness).

5)  Incorporate intermediary organizations and existing channels of information distribution whenever possible—such as using children’s museums as access points to reach young families.

6)  Have fun. Though it’s not always appropriate, a clever or amusing take on a serious subject may be what it takes to break through the noise. Remember the ice bucket challenge (fun and funny) for a very serious subject (ALS).

And keep in mind that no two campaigns are the same because no two issues are the same, and what worked in the past quickly becomes tired or passe (ie. don’t even try to do an ice bucket challenge for another issue).

video2We recently completed a pair of videos for the CHEST Foundation to raise awareness of COPD within the Hispanic marketplace. Targeting clinicians, the community, caregivers, media and other health care organizations, the videos—one in English, one in Spanish, combine storytelling with factual information in an illustrated format. [Read the case study and watch the videos] As we continue to create additional assets for the Foundation on lung health issues (asthma, COPD, Sarcoidosis) we continue to strive to achieve the underlying goal of all awareness campaigns—to start conversations that create change.

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