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The Use of Mainstream Media to Encourage Social Responsibility:  The International Experience – Report

The Use of Mainstream Media to Encourage Social Responsibility:

The International Experience

Executive Summary

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation commissioned the Advocates for Youth Media Project to carry out a study titled The Use of Mainstream Media to Encourage Social Responsibility: The International Experience. The study examines the outcomes of programs using mass media entertainment to stimulate changes in health behaviors.

Entertainment-education is defined as the process of putting educational content in entertaining formats and messages in order to increase knowledge about an issue, create favorable attitudes, and change overt behavior concerning the educational issue or topic (Singhal, 1993, and Brown & Singhal, 1993). International public health programs, especially those dealing with reproductive health, have more experience using and evaluating this approach than their domestic counterparts. These international experiences using entertainment for public health education offer relevant lessons for the United States and can be used in the development of similar domestic programs.

This study's findings are based on:

  • Interviews with the agencies most active in international entertainment-education

  • An examination of the evaluation results of 52 entertainment-education projects; and
  • A literature review.

Ten important “lessons learned” relating to the advantages and limitations of using this approach for public health education and promotion purposes in the United States emerged from the study:

1. Entertainment-education can be used for promoting knowledge, attitude and behavior change, but it may not always be the most appropriate approach for meeting behavior change objectives. While many agree that entertainment-education is useful in creating awareness or interest in a topic, some dispute the claim that entertainment education can provoke behavior change. Behavioral objectives can be unrealistic unless the entertainment is associated with another project component involving interpersonal contact.

2. Knowledge of the audience should drive the project. It is essential to begin the project planning process by determining whom the project aims to help with what situation or problem. A thorough exploration of the target audience, including their needs, concerns, interests and preferences, should be the foundation to determine the appropriate strategy for reaching that audience. Only after conducting this research should an entertainment-education strategy be considered.

3. Entertainment-education projects should be developed according to a methodology that includes formative research, pretesting, monitoring of outputs and evaluation of impact All of the agencies interviewed utilize a similar methodology for developing entertainment-education projects and felt strongly that this process helped to ensure the quality of the outcomes.

4. Working with celebrities can be an asset to a project, but only under certain circumstances. Celebrity endorsement is only important if the formative research shows that the audience would find a celebrity both attractive and a credible source of information on the issue. The most popular celebrities aren't always the best spokespeople for a cause.

5. Entertainment-education offers the advantage that, at least internationally, airtime often can be obtained for free. A well-crafted entertainment-education product should be so appealing that television and radio stations will want to broadcast it at no cost to draw viewers and listeners. However, to guarantee the best time slot for reaching the target audience, it is sometimes necessary to pay, even internationally.

6. Evaluation of entertainment-education projects may not be able to prove that behavior change has occurred as a result of the intervention. Tracking studies may help to identify whether behavior change has taken place, but it is difficult to measure and attribute change to a single initiative accurately.

7. Longer-term sustained efforts should be sought if entertainment-education is to be used most effectively. Long-term interventions that can be sustained over time enhance the probability of real impact, since audiences must be sufficiently exposed to the proposed behavior change and its benefits to develop understanding and positive attitudes toward the change. It takes time to build characters which represent the pro-social values and ideas, as well as to build the audience's identification with those characters.

8. Entertainment-education may not be the best way to target small pockets of need. Unless behavior change is sought among a majority of viewers, listeners or readers of the selected entertainment media, entertainment-education may not be the best approach to meeting a project's objectives.

9. Linkages with existing media and social agency infrastructures would be essential to the success of a U.S.-based project. Simply producing an attractive entertainment-education product is not an end in itself; it must be developed as a way to link audiences with something more, such as information or services.

10. Competition on the airways in the United States presents a challenge to domestic entertainment-education, but not necessarily an insurmountable one. It is easier for an entertainment-education project to reach its objectives in developing countries where there is less competition for audiences.


Further explanation of these lessons and a detailed inventory of 52 entertainment-education projects are contained in the full report (#1092), available by calling the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's publications request line at 1-800-656-4533.

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