PR professionals hit out at 'shock tactics'

The Government's increasing reliance on shock tactics for smoking, illegal drug use and safe sex campaigns has been criticised by PR professionals.

NHS campaign: hooked
NHS campaign: hooked

Audience Communications chief executive Ed Gyde told a group of public health experts at the end of last month that campaigns that used shock tactics to target young people on public health issues had little impact on changing behaviour.

The news comes as the NHS is increasingly using shock tactics for behaviour change campaigns. In May 2009, NHS Leicester made headlines when it posted a video clip of a schoolgirl giving birth in a playground surrounded by other students, aimed at reducing teenage pregnancies.

Speaking at the UK Public Health Association Conference, Gyde said: 'National and local research showed us young people are bored with shock tactics campaigns telling them what to do - especially those stressing negative health consequences of risk-taking behaviour.'

Gyde, former head of social marketing for Forster, told the audience: 'Young people reject authoritarian and negative approaches, preferring positive campaigns that stress more immediate and relevant benefits of healthier choices.'

Outside the conference, Gyde's views received support. NHS London director of comms Stephen Webb said: 'Shock tactics can work and are good at raising the profile of important issues in the media and online. However, they only work for a small proportion of your target group. Also, they are likely to only work once.'

Grayling UK executive chairman Vivien Hepworth said: 'Like all good campaigns, you have to look carefully at who you are trying to reach, how resistant they are to the message and, crucially, what kind of message will work best with that particular group.'

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