Is Viral Marketing Good for You?: The role of new media in public health

Co-presented with the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney and the Australian Association of Social Marketing

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14 June, 2011

Commercial interests have been quick to use social media, mobile technology and video sharing websites such as YouTube for marketing their products, as people engage with these media for information on health, and other social issues, as well as entertainment. Targeted audiences can be reached inexpensively and in a relatively unregulated environment, as viral marketing, ‘like-ing’ and ‘friending’ become increasingly popular.

Tobacco companies in particular have sidestepped World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines that restrict advertising by setting up fan groups on social media sites, and posting archival tobacco ads as strategies for ‘below-the-line’ promotion. In some markets, apps are used to gain personal contact details and track the location of consumers, while other apps offer rewards for viral promotion.

Yet public health programs continue to rely heavily on traditional media and community-based education programs. This may mean missing out on an awareness of threats to people’s wellbeing and opportunities for improving it.

Our Sydney Ideas forum will look at ways in which the not-for-profits and public sector can creatively deploy these technologies and other strategies to more effectively compete for mind-share on public health issues such as tobacco control, obesity prevention and alcohol harm minimisation.

The panel:

  • Doug Evans, Professor of Prevention and Community Health, and of Global Health, and Director of the Public Health Communication and Marketing Program in the School of Public Health and Health Services at The George Washington University, US.
  • Dr Rachael Dunlop, cell biologist and research and communications officer at The Heart Research Institute.
  • Nicholas Goodwin, PhD candidate in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney who has worked in social marketing and international development programs throughout the Asia Pacific.
  • Dr Julie Leask, senior research fellow and manager of social research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance. She is also senior lecturer (conjoint) appointment with the Sydney Medical School.
  • Moderator: Ben Harris-Roxas, Research Fellow at the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity at the University of New South Wales.


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