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Vital Strategies Shares Examples of How to Use Social Marketing to Benefit Public Health

Social marketing uses wide-scale communication—from public service announcements to billboards—to influence behavior, change social norms and boost support for policies designed to improve health. In April, Vital Strategies’ Road Safety and Food Policy teams had the opportunity to share two examples of how Vital has successfully used social marketing in several African countries to address key public health issues.

At the World Social Marketing Conference, hosted for the first time in Africa, at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, Vital team members shared lessons from our national campaign in South Africa, which built support for a tax that has led to a dramatic drop in the purchase and consumption of sugary drinks.

Luyanda Majija, Associate Director of Communication for Food Policy presents on our campaign to build support for sugary drinks taxes in South Africa

Luyanda Majija, Associate Director of Communication for Food Policy, presented on the “Are You Drinking Yourself Sick?” campaign, which was aired throughout the country in 2016 and 2017 to build support for the tax, which was passed in 2018. About 78% of people who saw the campaign remembered the main message from the campaign and support for the proposed sugary drink tax increased by nearly 10%. For the full case study, visit: Lessons From South Africa’s Campaign for a Tax on Sugary Beverages.

Since the Health Promotion Levy was passed, South Africans are buying 28% fewer sugary drinks and individual sugar consumption from sugary drinks is down by about 50%.

Asmeret Nigus, Technical Advisor for Africa and Elizaveta Zeynalova, Global Research Manager at the World Social Marketing Conference

Vital also shared lessons from testing anti-speeding road safety messages in three cities: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Accra, Ghana; and Kampala, Uganda. Technical Advisor for Africa Asmeret Nigus and Global Research Manager Elizaveta Zeynalova shared successes from Accra and Addis Ababa. Accra has seen a drop in speeding following a Vital-supported mass media campaign as part of a comprehensive speed management plan. Addis Ababa saw reduced drink driving rates after a similar campaign. Both campaigns were combined with enhanced enforcement from police, a combination that has been proven to be effective in changing risky behaviors and ultimately saving lives. Vital has partnered with governments through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety to improve road safety for more than a decade.

The World Social Media Marketing Conference theme was “The Future is Fusion,” and sessions showcased case studies on topics including increasing access to medicines to prevent HIV, efforts to address food insecurity and malnutrition, and countering vaccine hesitancy.

Attendees from across Africa and from other countries around the world engaged in discussions about how different social marketing strategies can be used in an integrated way to solve the world’s most pressing health and social challenges. 

Following the conference, Luyanda Majija was asked to submit a case study from Are You Drinking Yourself Sick? for an upcoming book, Social Marketing and Public Health: Theory and Practice (Oxford University Press).