Author: Reikan Lin

More Than Meets The Eye: Evolving Health Advertisements


While technologies such as the Internet have drastically changed the world of advertising, traditional poster ads have also evolved, and some organizations have taken advantage in their health-related messages.

In 2013, the ANAR Foundation created an ad for a child abuse hotline that uses lenticular printing such that those who view the ad at less than about 4’3” will see a different message. Adults standing higher than 4’3” will only read, “Sometimes child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it” without bruising on the depicted child’s face. Children, on the other hand, standing lower than 4’3” will use the bruises and additional line reading “If somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you” along with the hotline number.

The ad uses a very simple yet clever way to send a particular message to their target population without adults around them (potentially an abuser) being aware.

In 2014, a popular Swedish ad for shampoo was released in subway stations. Using sensors, the digital ad showed the depicted woman’s hair being blown whenever a subway arrived at the station, mimicking the wind produced by the train.

A similar ad was produced with a surprising twist—after the child’s hair was blown, the hair eventually flies off her head, revealing that it was a wig. Then the true message is revealed: “Every day a child is diagnosed with cancer” followed by instructions on how to text in a donation to the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation.

The innovations for marketing in health only show promise as we move forward.



DC Takes on HIV: An Evaluation


Campaigns such as DC Takes on HIV acknowledge that marketing is not just for commercial products. Using a social marketing approach, the campaign promotes HIV testing, medical care, and treatment, condom use, and healthy relationships. The umbrella campaign consists of several topic specific campaigns, including Ask for the Test (HIV testing), Know Where You Stand (intimate partner communication), Rubber Revolution (condom use), and I Got This (HIV treatment).

A recent study evaluating the effectiveness of the campaign shows that the efforts were successful, especially among those most affected by HIV. According to the report, Public Awareness, Resident Engagement, and a Call to Action, the campaign had high visibility in terms of reach as well as a high degree of recall from the 810 participants, who were interviewed by telephone interviews.

It appears that the campaigns helped facilitate an increase in awareness of Washington’s free condom (71% gained knowledge) and HIV testing services (50% gained knowledge). On the behavioral side, 36% reported getting more HIV information, 35% reported finding out their STD status, 28% reported using condoms more frequently, and 27% reported getting tested for HIV.

The DC Department of Health will be hosting a webinar on implementing social marketing campaigns for HIV/AIDS prevention.




125 Years of Public Health in Florida

What do you get when you combine public health, history, and marketing? This year, the Florida Department of Health is celebrating 125 years of public health in Florida after the state legislature established the department (then known as the State Board of Health) on February 20, 1889.


Photo credit: Robert E. Fisher, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Led by Integrated Marketing Director Valerie Peacock, the yearlong campaign includes several exhibits, events, publications, media, and other materials highlighting major milestones, notable accomplishments, and the state’s public health heroes over the last 125 years.

Those residing or visiting Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, will have the opportunity to visit the Florida History Capitol Museum from September 30, 2014 to May 10, 2015 to view the 125th anniversary exhibit. Those who will not be able to attend physical can view many of the other resources on the Internet, including a variety of materials from the Florida Memory Project and the historical podcast series.

One particular podcast on bubonic plague won a Bronze Medal award of excellence in public health communications for Webcasts/Podcasts/Web-Based Training at the 2014 National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media in August.


Podcast credit: Florida Department of Health,

These materials are just the tip of the iceberg for 125th anniversary campaign; together, they serve an important role. The rich history helps to educate the public about everything that the agency has done and continues to do, increase the credibility of the state agency, and encourages the state’s new workforce and students to consider a career in public health.



Searching for Sickness

Have you thought about tracking disease through web search patterns? In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention partnered with Google to see if certain search terms related to influenza could predict flu visits at doctors’ offices.


The subsequently constructed Google Flu Trends showed varying degrees of success in its accuracy, but improvements to the algorithms continue to make these technologies intriguing public health tools. Other search engines or websites such as Wikipedia may also predict flu epidemics.

However, the usefulness, accuracy, and type of website can vary between different types of diseases. For example, Twitter or Yelp may be especially useful in detecting restaurants that are the source of foodborne illnesses. These websites were used in investigations in Chicago and New York, respectively.

With surveillance being a key part of detecting and preventing disease, we may increasingly turn to user-driven technologies to look into online behaviors that may very well predict outbreaks, epidemics, and other trends.



Green is the New Health


Is green the new way to use health to market products? This August, the Coca-Cola Company released a new product, Coca-Cola Life, which boasts about 50 fewer calories than a “regular” Coca-Cola.

This is not the first time the company has produced a “healthier” alternative—products such as Diet Coke and Coke Zero have been marketing as low calorie and zero calorie options. However, Coca-Cola Life is marketed with a different appeal, such as its distinctive green-colored labeling.

The green may refer to the type of sweetener used in the new product. Instead of using controversial sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium and aspartame, Coke Life uses stevia, a natural sweetener, in addition to sugar. Thus, the product can be marketed to those opposed to artificial sweeteners, in addition to a lower calorie option that may retain a taste closer to a classic Coke.


Is Coke Life healthier than regular Coke? Perhaps. Is it healthy option in general? Maybe not. Either way, health-conscious consumers should be wary of this marketing that appeals to health. Even if the product is healthier, it is still a sugar-sweetened beverage, and at the end of the day, the company’s goal is to make a profit. Coca-Cola Life is an opportunity for the company to appeal to increasing consumer demands for health-conscious products while displaying a positive public image by providing a “healthier” option.

This may be especially important, since more of these “healthier” products may be released in the future, such as a copycat rival, Pepsi True.



Tapping into a New Market: The Fear of Ebola

With Ebola hemorrhagic fever as a major topic of discussion in the US, companies such as Natural Solutions Foundation have marketed cures for the virus such as Silver Sol Nano Silver. With no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drug available for Ebola, these products are a cause for concern; not only are the products fraudulent, individuals may turn to these treatments instead of proper medical care.

In response, the FDA issued a warning to Natural Solutions Foundation in addition to two other companies. However, the list of commercial and homemade Ebola cures extends beyond these three entities and can even be seen in public-made online videos.


But Ebola cures are far from the first suspect health solution to be sold—green coffee extract, snake oil, and several dieting or weight loss products. Consumers seeking to save their time, money, and even health should keep their eyes on the FDA’s resources and list of fraud in health.

Resources from FDA and MayoClinic, there are a few flags to look for in health scams, including:

  • Single products that are claimed to solve several health issues
  • Anecdotal testimonials of the product without any scientific evidence
  • Products that are “backed” by scientific studies but lack quality references
  • Quick fixes such as those frequently found in weight loss products
  • Buzz words such as “detoxify” or “purify” that do not have scientific meanings
  • Products with no negative side effects
  • “All natural,” which says little about its effectiveness or its true ingredients
  • Claims of government/medical conspiracy to hide information

Whichever the product, it may be beneficial to be critical and think about who is behind the product and who will benefit from sales.



The Rapid Spread of Ebola (Media Coverage)


With a high mortality rate for those who contract Ebola hemorrhagic fever, there is reason to be concerned for persons in direct contact of those infected, but the disease has become a hot news item, since the first case of Ebola in the US was diagnosed on September 30, 2014.

Despite evidence and top officials stating that the Ebola is transmitted through exchange of bodily fluids, there are fears in the public that the disease can be airborne. While Ebola is not widespread in the US, with three confirmed cases (Thomas Duncan, the first case and two nurses who attended him), media coverage certainly is. A chart from Bloomberg’s Michael McDonough shows the rapid increase of Ebola wire stories in the last few months.


Can the widespread coverage be problematic? Some polls, such as one conducted by Harvard, show a lack of knowledge of the disease, and even more recent polls suggest that this knowledge has not improved with the increase of media coverage.

According to Northwestern University’s Susan Mello, the constant news coverage could be problematic because the hype can mask other public health issues, such as influenza, and because it can create an “infodemic” where excess information can actually confuse or desensitize viewers.

And as expected, the comedians also have their opinions on the matter.


Pink You Know Where Your Money Is Going?

As we settle into fall, we see the same seasonal markers surface each year—sweaters and jackets, Halloween décor, and pumpkin everything. But with Breast Cancer Awareness Month occurring in October, we also need an influx of pink everything in the name of raising money for breast cancer research.

However, critical researchers, activists, consumers, and persons with breast cancer, such as those featured in the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc., are very skeptical of the efforts to sell items, events, and the cause for breast cancer.

There are several reasons to be skeptical about the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s campaign. First, very little is known about the cause of breast cancer. If the cause(s) was known, then the month could be used to educate the public on these risk factors and how one can prevent breast cancer. This absence of this knowledge begs the question of what the awareness month is about: what is there to be aware about?

In the end, the focus is on selling things that are pink and participating in activities such as runs and walks while wearing pink with intentions to help a cause but having very little impact on any action.


The initial purpose of the awareness month was to promote mammograms, but even this purpose can be faulty. Early detection of breast cancer may lead to effective treatment, but there is also a great chance that it may not or the side effects of the treatment may lead to other debilitating health conditions.

Major corporate partners of the campaign have much to gain from increased mammogram screenings and breast cancer diagnoses. Companies that build mammogram machines such as General Electric and DuPont are big donors; AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company and primary sponsor of the awareness month, can profit greatly from more women undergoing breast cancer treatments.

Of the money raised, which happens to the primary result of all of the awareness efforts (as opposed to advances in research), a portion goes into research, with a primary focus on finding a cure, not discovering the cause or how to prevent it.


There’s also the observation that of all cancers or diseases for corporations to rally behind for a public-approved cause, breast cancer is conveniently a disease that affects women and a disease located in the breasts that can be easily sexualized. The campaign also sends a message of hope that women can fight and win the battle against cancer—often a losing battle that conveniently places the blame on those with breast cancer.

All things considered, is this campaign nothing more than a powerful business plan?



Tech Giants App-solutely Approaching The Health Field

Following the footsteps of Apple’s Health app for iOS 8 and Google Fit, Facebook is seeking to expand into the health field. With Apple and Google currently focusing on health metric apps such as keeping track of workouts, sleep, steps, Facebook may join the fray with its own lifestyle applications.

Additionally, Facebook may create online support communities for persons with similar health concerns. Online support communities on health issues are nothing new, but given Facebook’s existing online social networks, this may be feature that will gain traction very quickly among users, especially since users are already searching Facebook for health advice.

Recent events have spurred Facebook’s endeavors in the health field; for example, the 2012 initiative of allowing Facebook members to designate their organ donor status was a considerable success, increasing daily registrations by 21 times over.


One concern of these health apps is privacy when it concerns confidential health information, especially in the wake of breaches such as the iCloud nude celebrity picture security issues. In particular, Facebook may need to be careful with this issue, considering existing attitudes about the website’s use of datamining for tailored advertisements as well as controversies such as research through manipulation of user’s news feeds. Extraction of personal health information for advertising or research purposes could serve as a major barrier for members’ trust of the website.

Facebook’s health initiatives may take some time for implementation, but it appears that today’s tech giants are moving toward practical applications for user-oriented health needs.



Who The .health Does This Website Belong To?


You may know what to expect when you access a website that ends with .com, .org, .edu, or .gov, but what about .health? Get ready to see this, since the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been bidding several health-related generic top-level domains (gLTD) such as .health, .doctor, and .med to various companies.

Global health organizations such as the World Health Organization consider the transactions controversial, since ownership of health-related domains can undermine the public’s ability to retrieve information from credible sources. These domains and websites associated with those domains can be worth millions of dollars.

Many internet users understand that the source behind websites ending with .edu or .gov may have the credibility of educational institutions or governmental organizations, respectivel, especially since these websites require third party accreditation. However, these new health-related domains do not appear to have any systems in place.

DotHealth, LLC is a company that recently acquired the .health domain, which means it can sell .health websites to different organizations. The same domain owned by a public health organization could be used for dissemination health information, but it could also be used by a company to associate its products with health.

What do you think about .health and other domains?