Advantages and limitations – includes articles on mass media affecting behavior, and choosing the right format

Advantages and limitations – includes articles on mass media affecting behavior, and choosing the right format – Promoting Family Planning with TV, Video, and Film

Cathleen A. Church

Advantages and Limitations In addition to their wide appeal and large audiences, television, video, and film have other advantages that make them suitable for health promotion. Of course, these advantages are balanced by some limitations. Family planning organizations need to develop strategic plans for using the media, considering their own needs and resources and balancing advantages and limitations. Important choices in such planning include the mixture of mass-media and interpersonal communication, which of the various media to use, and which services to promote.


* Attractive. Moving images attract attention. Few people can walk past a television without stopping to look. Images are often remembered longer than verbal messages (30).

* Agenda-setting. The mass media bring certain issues to public attention while ignoring others. This agenda-setting can influence both public and private decisions by making certain issues seem more important than others (84, 95).

* Influential. Television, video, and film are often seen by important audiences such as decision-makers. Usually the wealthy, who include those with political and economic power, are the first to own televisions and VCRs. They are accustomed to receiving information through these media and may pay more attention to messages from them than to messages from other sources. Political leaders consider these messages important partly because they know that many people are seeing them (106).

* Acceptable. Most viewers find family planning messages in the mass media acceptable. When women of reproductive age in 19 countries were asked, “Is it acceptable or not acceptable to you for family planning information to be provided on radio or television?” an average of 84% answered “yes.” Over half of these women watched television at least once a week (45) (see Table 3, p. 8).

* “Enter-educating.” Television, video, and film can educate while carrying out their usual role of entertaining. Everyone likes and wants to be entertained, and every culture uses some form of entertainment to teach social lessons. “Enter-educate,” the term coined to describe this concept, means that entertainment can show people how they can improve their lives (see box, p. 17). Family planning messages can be incorporated into many forms of television and video entertainment (40, 78, 216) (see box, p. 9).

* Moving. These media, especially when they entertain, can elicit emotions that may spur behavior change. Mass-media campaigns that arouse emotions can be extremely powerful, not only in influencing individual behavior but also in changing law and policy. The emotions aroused may be negative, such as fear, or positive, such as love, hope, or aspirations (111). Emotional appeals especially influence people who are already concerned and may attract the attention of people initially indifferent to the message (14).

* Exemplary. Television, video, and film can offer examples of behavior. Characters in drama, soap opera, and feature film often serve as role-models either to copy or to avoid (16, 143, 186). Also, by depicting characters and events, they can make abstract concepts such as family planning not only concrete, but also moving.

* Cost-sharing. High-quality products with commercial appeal can save family planning programs money and sometimes even generate income. Projects in Latin America, the Philippines, India, and Turkey have shown that, when organizations obtain corporate sponsorship, including donation of airtime and promotional materials, they increase the reach of the message at little cost to the organization (81, 130, 186, 226).

* Cost-effective. Well-designed, high-quality TV, video, and film productions can reach large numbers of their intended audiences for very little cost per person. In Nigeria the songs and music videos “Wait for Me” and “Choices” cost an estimated 2.2 (US) for each person of reproductive age reached (118) (see p. 20). In Turkey the estimated cost was 4 (US) for each married woman of reproductive age reached by a family planning message (226) (see p. 19).

* Educational. Videotape, especially, is well-suited to training clients and providers and to other educational needs (see box, p. 23).

* Illustrative. In training films and videotapes the combination of sound and image can demonstrate and explain complicated messages and procedures (104).

* Portable. Portable film projectors and video players make it possible to take the message to the people, wherever they are. Films can be shown to larger audiences, but VCRs and monitors break down less often and are easier to repair than film projectors (188).

* Replayable. Films, videos, and television programs can be played over and over again. This is advantageous when many people, such as health workers, need to hear the same messages but cannot be brought together. Also, some people need to see and hear messages repeatedly.


Using television, video, and film for family planning messages is not without problems, however. Productions for these media are often:

* Costly. The cost of television receivers and VCRs limits the audience in some areas. More commonly, the initial expense of production facilities, technicians, equipment, airtime, maintenance, repairs, and distribution limits production. Because of its cost, television production is often given the largest share of family planning communication budgets, leaving little for other media. Decisions about when to use television or video should be made objectively, not just because these media are glamorous and exciting to work with.

* Less accessible. Fewer people have access to television, video, and film than to radio. The people who need family planning information most–the urban poor and people in rural areas–often have the least access to television. Increasing satellite transmissions will give rural people better access to television, but only if they have receivers and electricity. Mobile play-back units, solar or gasoline-powered generators, and existing video parlors and other gathering places with TVs and VCRs also can help.

* Restricted. “Gatekeepers” may restrict content. Government often controls or closely monitors the broadcast media. Sometimes television, video, and film are scrutinized more closely than radio or print. Gatekeepers often think that audiences will object to family planning messages. As surveys show, these fears may be unfounded (45) (see Table 3). Special-interest groups may be a greater problem, since broadcasters and government officials may fear their reactions. Involving the gatekeepers in project planning and consulting with special-interest groups may help avoid later objections (99).

* Technical. Trained technical personnel may be in short supply. Many people with different skills are needed to research, plan, produce, and implement a mass-media campaign or to produce a TV program or a film. In addition to project managers, talented and trained producers, directors, actors, technicians, and scriptwriters must be available to ensure a high-quality production.

* Revenue-dependent. Film-making has always been a commercial operation. So has television in some areas, and in others governments are beginning to require that television pay its own way. Dependence on advertising revenue may discourage TV stations from donating airtime and may influence program content. Also, there is little impetus for commercial stations to expand broadcast coverage beyond major urban areas, where the advertised products are readily available (78). Airtime must be bought from commercial stations, and prime time–when the most people are watching–is expensive. Many countries require TV stations to broadcast free “public service announcements,” but these are usually run when no one has bought the airtime–in other words, when few people are watching. Also, since many people regard television as strictly for entertainment, there may be little commercial support for “educational” programming. Family planning programs can overcome this obstacle by making their messages more entertaining and by putting them into ongoing entertainment programs.

* Unidirectional. Lack of immediate feedback may limit behavior change in response to mass-media messages. Television and film, especially, provide little opportunity for viewers to participate. Many feature programs are shown only once, and the one-time presentation of material does not allow for different rates of learning, for people’s varying needs for repetition, or for questions and clarification (62, 104). Television, video, and film work better when messages are repeated as often as possible and combined with other forms of communication. Group viewing with discussion leaders can help.

* Time-consuming. Planning, researching, and producing television, video, or film projects can take months–or even years. In this time messages may become obsolete, or the people who deliver them, unpopular, requiring even more time for revisions. Careful planning and pre-testing in the early stages of project design can help keep projects on track and minimize delays.

Recognizing the potential of television, video, and film, a number of family planning organizations in the developing world, along with like-minded media professionals, are broadcasting family planning messages in a variety of formats. Many of these efforts have not been documented, and still fewer have been thoroughly evaluated. In every region, however, family planning programs are using television, video, and/or film to reach both potential and current clients. Evaluations, where available, show that these efforts can have a positive impact.

COPYRIGHT 1989 Department of Health

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group