Communications and Mass Media

Mass Media for Public Health (2015-2017)
(Funded by the National Institute for Health Research)

Media advertising campaigns are used to promote sales of products, but they can also be used to give the public information about health and to encourage them to be more healthy (eg. adverts encouraging people to stop smoking, or to drink sensibly, or to use condoms).  In recent years, we have seen a growth in new types of advertising and media, particularly on the internet and mobile phones.  The evidence base on these newer types of media campaign is still emerging.

This systematic review-based study will attempt to pull together all the evidence on media advertising campaigns about health, to provide clear answers to the questions:

  • How effective are mass media advertising campaigns at changing health behaviours?
  • Are they more effective with certain groups of people than others?
  • Are they equally effective at local, regional and national level?

By effective, we mean in the first instance ‘do they encourage the changes in behaviour which they are trying to change?’.  However, sometimes campaigns do not try to change behaviour, but to move people towards being able to change behaviour in the future, for example by encouraging them to think differently about a health issue, or to feel more confident in their ability to change.  We are interested in all of these types of effects.

We will focus on mass media campaigns for alcohol use, illicit drug use, diet, physical activity, sexual and reproductive health, and smoking cessation and prevention.  By media, we mean campaigns which use television and radio advertising, cinema advertising, advertising in newspapers and magazines, advertising on billboards and other types of outdoor advertising (eg. bus shelters, taxi cabs), advertising on the internet and on mobile phones, and other types of advertising (eg. advertising in video games).

The study will involve wide consultation with public health practitioners and commissioners at national and local level, and with representatives of public involvement groups.

ISM Staff: Linda Bauld, Martine Stead, Kathryn Angus and Fiona Dobbie

External collaborators: Sarah Lewis and Tessa Langley, University of Nottingham; James Thomas and Kate Hinds, University of London, EPPI; Shona Hilton and Srinivasa Katikireddi, University of Glasgow

Scoping and Prioritisation of Health Communication Research and Country Capacity Building Activities
(Commissioned by the World Health Communication Associates)

The purpose of this project is to scope research priorities for communicable disease communication capacity building. The project includes defining priorities and opportunities for research evidence to support development of better practice, mapping research capacity,  and the identification of strategy options to progress the development of evidence-based good practice.

ISM Staff: Georgina Cairns, Marisa de Andrade and Kathryn Angus

The Marketing of Electronic Cigarettes in the UK: Direct and Indirect Promotion through Traditional, Digital and Social Media
(Funded by Cancer Research UK)

This project analysed how electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are being marketed in UK newspapers and magazines; retail trade press; tobacco journals; company press releases; through television clips and other traditional communication channels and sources. It also investigated marketing on online social network sites.

ISM Staff: Marisa de Andrade, Gerard Hastings, Kathryn Angus, Richard Purves and Diane Dixon

de Andrade M, Hastings G and Angus K (2013). Promotion of electronic cigarettes: Tobacco marketing reinvented? British Medical Journal, 347: f7473. doi:10.1136/bmj.f7473.

de Andrade M, Hastings G, Angus K, Purves R and Dixon D (2013). The Marketing of Electronic Cigarettes in the UK. Commissioned by Cancer Research UK. Stirling: Institute for Social Marketing, November.

Something to Declare? Gathering Perceptions of Illicit Tobacco Through Radio
(Funded by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde)

This project uses innovative methods to explore how illicit tobacco is viewed by deprived communities in Scotland. Unlike the usual survey or interview-based approach, the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC) funded study enables participation via workshops on radio production and broadcasting skills. Whilst engaged in this training, participants are encouraged to discuss their perceptions of illicit tobacco and prepare radio programmes. Guided by an assets based approach, it empowers participants by teaching essential skills to improve employability and encourage creativity in communities. Findings will be used to inform the development of a social marketing campaign across the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.

ISM Staff: Marisa de Andrade

Addictions and Lifestyles in Contemporary Europe - Reframing Addictions Project (ALICE RAP)
(2011 - 2016)
(Funded by the European Commission)

ALICE RAP aims to study and analyse the development and place of well-acknowledged and new addictions as a major societal trend in Europe in relation to governance and public policies and responses. The study involves 67 research institutions from 25 European countries covering the humanities, social sciences and biological and medical sciences. Its scientific objectives are:

  1. To describe the ownership of addictions through an historical study of addiction over the ages, an analysis of public and private stakeholder views and through image analyses, of professional and citizenship views.
  2. To study how addictions are classified and defined, followed by estimates of their health, social and economic impact.
  3. To investigate determinants of addiction through a coordinated and cohesive social, economic and biological analysis of initiation, transition into problem use and transition into and out of dependence.
  4. To analyze the business of addiction through studies of revenues, profits and participants in legal and illegal trade, the impact of suppliers on addictive substance use and behaviours, and analyses of webs of influence on policy responses.
  5. To study addictions governance by describing the views and forces that determine the ways societies steer themselves and by stock taking of present governance practices to old and emerging addictions.
  6. To analyze youth as customers through considering the impacts of new technologies on promoting and mitigating use, by studying the interrelations of culture and biology, and by determining features that promote resilience and nudge young people to reduce problematic use.

ISM is contributing specifically to Objectives 1 and 4.

ISM Staff:
Martine Stead, Kathryn Angus, Richard Purves, Gerard Hastings, Anne Marie MacKintosh and Crawford Moodie

Health Communications for Communicable Disease
(Commissioned by the European Centre for Disease Control and in collaboration with the National University of Ireland, Galway)

ISM is working with universities in the Republic of Ireland and Spain to research effective communication approaches and strategies for the prevention and mitigation of communicable disease transmission and impact on health. The research is intended to support the establishment of a programme for dissemination of evidence based health communication activities and innovations on communicable diseases for country support in the EU and EEA/EFTA 2009-12

The project involves a survey-based mapping and evaluating information on the status of implementation of health communication activities in Europe, a qualitative needs assessment of European practitioners with responsibility for health communications to formulate and deliver health communications, literature reviews of good practice, systematic literature reviews of the evidence for effectiveness and synthesis reports of evidence-based practice critical success factors.

ISM Staff: Georgina Cairns, Laura Macdonald, Kathryn Angus and Gerard Hastings


Macdonald L, Cairns G, Angus K and de Andrade M (2013). Promotional communications for influenza vaccination: A systematic review. Journal of Health Communication, 18(12): 1523-1549. doi:10.1080/10810730.2013.840697 eprint

Cairns G, de Andrade M and Macdonald L (2013). Reputation, relationships, risk communication, and the role of trust in the prevention and control of communicable disease: A review Journal of Health Communication, 18(12): 1550-1565. doi:10.1080/10810730.2013.840696


  • Behaviour Change Theories Systematic Review - Angus K, Cairns G, Purves R, Bryce S, Macdonald L, Gordon R (2013). Systematic literature review to examine the evidence for the effectiveness of interventions that use theories and models of behaviour change: towards the prevention and control of communicable diseases. Stockholm: ECDC.
  • Social Marketing Evidence Review - Macdonald L, Cairns G, Angus K and Stead M (2012). Evidence review: Social marketing for the prevention and control of communicable disease. Stockholm: ECDC.
  • Immunisations Systematic Review - Cairns G, Macdonald L, Angus K, Walker L, Cairns-Haylor T and Bowdler T (2012). Systematic literature review of the evidence for effective national immunisation schedule promotional communications. Stockholm: ECDC.
  • Status of health communication activities in Europe - Doyle P, Sixsmith J, Barry MM, Mahmood S, Macdonald L, O’Sullivan M, Oroviogoichoechea C, Cairns G, Guillen-Grima F and Núñez-Córdoba J (2012). Public health stakeholders’ perceived status of health communication activities for the prevention and control of communicable diseases across the EU and EEA/EFTA countries. Stockholm: ECDC.
  • Trust and Reputation Management Literature Review - European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (2011). A literature review of trust and reputation management in communicable disease public health. Stockholm: ECDC.