The Florida Department of Health set out to prepare people for the potential of a flu pandemic, but they faced a tough challenge: no pandemic on the horizon. Qualitative research showed, and quantitative research confirmed, that most Floridians doubted a pandemic would happen or, if it did, affect them personally. They had a point: pandemics were not commonplace.
Play up the risk. Hammer home some disastrous possibilities, and urge the prudent to prepare accordingly by taking steps to avoid passing on germs.
Instead of pitching panic, we helped the health department focus on the behaviors they hoped to change -- a series of hygienic actions such as washing hands, covering coughs and staying home when sick. Then we built the campaign around what does matter to people: fitting in. Four out of five people wash their hands after using the rest room. So the central character in the campaign became the proverbial fifth guy, who practices poor hygiene and suffers the immediate social consequences.
A post-intervention survey showed more self-reported incidents of hand washing, and a jump in the portion of Floridians covering their cough and staying home when sick. Those exposed to the campaign were much more likely to be engaging in the target behaviors. The success was contagious. The campaign has been adopted by other health departments across the nation including those in Idaho, Missouri, Maine, New York, several counties in Ohio, and the cities of Sacramento and Los Angeles.