How to reach “masses” when mass media are not available? Follow the money!

Ann JimersonTina Sanghvi, and Silvia AlayónALIVE & THRIVE

Quick. I say “mass media campaign” and you name the “media” that come to mind: _____.

Not so long ago, you would likely have answered “TV and radio.” With “new media” abounding, broadcast TV and radio are now relegated to “traditional media.” But what about when technology—even electricity—lags. What does “mass media” mean then?

At Alive & Thrive, our challenge has been to reach scale to improve child feeding. In Bangladesh, for example, we had committed to reaching 8.5 million mothers with children under 2 years of age. After doing the math on how many mothers we could reach by mobilizing a variety of frontline workers, we knew we would fall short of “scale” unless we also employed mass media. How else could we get the numbers needed?

We had first imagined that village theater and radio would be the most modern media we could count on for rural areas of Bangladesh. But a study of media habits quickly set us straight: TV watching was widespread, even in rural villages. We created a persuasive TV campaign to help families adopt better practices for breastfeeding and young child feeding. The TV spots were little dramas that were powerful enough to influence mothers, grandmothers, fathers, and even health workers (click on links below). Early studies confirmed what we’d learned in field visits: our TV spots were memorable, and people’s behaviors were beginning to change.

BD Media Dark

We believed in the potential impact of these TV spots. But some communities, without power and far from transmission towers, were still “media dark”—beyond the reach of broadcast TV. How could we harness the power of our TV spots for those communities?

To find the answer, we followed the money.

We looked to the companies that are making the money today in Bangladesh’s rapidly growing and intensely competitive market: those that offer mobile phone services. They’re always asking “What’s the bottom line?” They’re focused intently on increasing their reach because every person reached represents a potential sale. We asked them, “How do YOU make sales in media dark areas?”

It turns out there is a thriving industry to market mobile phones and phone services using face-to-face events that extend mass media promotion. We decided to test whether their approach for selling a highly desired commercial product (mobile phone service) could work for improving child feeding practices.

We hired a marketing company with experience in selling phone services to take our campaign into areas where TV couldn’t reach. This was different from our usual community mobilization activities.

We trained the marketing company’s outreach staff so they knew the priority recommended feeding practices that were the focus of our campaign—including putting baby to breast in the first hour; giving only breastmilk for 6 months; and giving children meat, fish, or eggs (animal source food) daily, starting at 6 months.

The marketing company worked with us to create an event, as appealing and engaging as the pitch they use to convince people to buy mobile phone services. It included screening of our TV spots  and animated films. For that, the company had to lug a TV set, a DVD player, and a generator into far-flung communities. After each showing, the outreach staff led a lively discussion about how families could adopt the feeding practices we were promoting—and the benefits of doing so. The session ended with a quiz and the awarding of small gifts as prizes.

Crowds turned out for entertainment and prizes. Mothers, community leaders, and school children could repeat the messages from our TV spots. A household survey showed that 39% of mothers with children under 2 years (our target audience) recalled attending one of these events.

Interestingly, among women who attended the events, fewer than 5% of the mothers recalled the discussion or the quiz, but more than 90% mentioned the video.

Sara Zakar, the Managing Director of Asiatic 3Sixty, the marketing company we used, thinks she knows why: “Given the relatively low exposure of participant groups to the outside world, visual and audio tools are likely to have a more profound impact on them.”

Sometimes it takes looking to a commercial company to solve a sticky public health problem. In this case, we discovered that the commercial sector’s answer to marketing in “media dark” areas, with a little adjustment, can work to extend the reach of health campaigns, too.

Click on links below to watch the A&T TV spots and animated films.

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3 thoughts on “How to reach “masses” when mass media are not available? Follow the money!

  1. Thanks for the article. What was your incremental reach via this community activation method and at what cost (cost per contact)? Also what was the frequency of messaging vs the TV campaign? Thanks.

  2. Thanks for your question, Mel. In the A&T intensive areas, the reach of interpersonal communication delivered by BRAC through household visits was nearly universal, so the media dark strategy did not increase the reach. It did allow us to have additional contacts with target audiences and reinforce the messages of front line workers with the dramatic power of these TV spots, increasing the intensity of the program in these areas. IFPRI, our evaluation partner, has collected costing data, but these data have not yet been analyzed, so it’s a bit early to know the cost per contact via this method. The frequency of messaging in each media dark community was twice per year, while the TV broadcasts were much more frequent, for example daily spots during bursts that lasted several weeks.

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