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It may be memorable but is it misleading?

10/03/21 . Blog

Public Health England are relaunching one of the most memorable health campaigns in recent years. 

Stroke is a major killer. In 2020, men accounted for 52% of stroke admissions. PHE are rightly trying to raise awareness, especially as there is evidence that this is one of the conditions that people may have been reluctant to present with during the pandemic.

Still from TV advert

They’re relaunching the FAST campaign. Its centrepiece is a memorable, high-impact image of a woman with her brain on fire and the acronym FAST which stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time. Thus it brings together the three key symptoms of stroke plus the imperative to act quickly in a simple to remember acronym. Sounds like a good campaign so why does it not appear to have been working?

Yes, most of the images are women despite strokes affecting men slightly more but I’m not sure that’s the main problem.

The fire image is incredibly powerful. But is it accurate? I know the effect of a stroke is rather like a fire in your brain but is the experience of one? It’s hard to imagine anything worse than your brain on fire or a feeling like it. Is it possible that people may underestimate their own symptoms by comparison thinking, ‘It can’t be a stroke, it doesn’t feel as serious as that.’

Similarly, the acronym FAST by linking all the symptoms together may imply that you need all of them and even in a particular order for it to be a stroke. Again, neither are true. If you have any suspicion of stroke, you should seek help immediately.

So, to use some marketing jargon, FAST has been excellent for raising brand awareness but less good for changing behaviour. It may emphasise the seriousness of stroke but without enhancing our understanding of how to spot one.

I may be wrong. I hope so. Look out for the relaunched campaign; look out for the signs of a stroke. 

The advert

Jim Pollard,

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