Research & Insights

Want People To Listen? Talk to Them The Way You’d Want Someone To Talk To You

HIV/AIDs awareness and prevention campaigns aimed directly at black American women over the past several decades have had little effect on reducing infection rates.

Strategic Communications researcher Tiphane P. Turpin of Georgetown University believes these campaigns have failed because the women being targeted didn’t like the fact they were being singled out or that they were being addressed in ways that made them uncomfortable or that they felt reinforced cultural stereotypes.

Writing in the 2013 Public Relations Journal, in article titled, “Unintended Consequences of a Segmentation Strategy: Exploring Constraint Recognition Among Black Women Targeted in HIV/AIDS Campaigns,” Turpin says “black American women experienced multiple constraints in seeking and processing information in HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns. Their cultural identity as defined by race and a number of other characteristics (age, gender, socio economic status) (are) a primary constraint defining their experience hearing or seeing HIV/AIDS-prevention messages.”

From in-depth interviews, Turpin identified the following as reasons health awareness and education campaigns targeting black women have failed to hit home.

Women wanted better and diverse representations in campaigns…

“The women generally desired variety among individuals in campaigns targeting them. They stated that when messages clearly target a cultural group identifiable by race and gender, they prefer representations of multiple types of people within that group. One participant dismissed targeted messages as ineffective, citing her lack of connectivity with campaign representatives depicted in targeted communication campaigns from numerous industries.”

Women felt that the campaigns suffered both because the messages are both too obvious and insincere.

“One participant in her early 20s described consciously avoiding campaigns targeting her because she felt they were highly overt; thus, she could easily identify their targeted purpose and did not care to process the information because she could guess the message without the campaign prompt. Conversely, a woman in her 30s dismissed campaign messages when they were using language that included words she identified as youthful slang…”

Women felt that campaigns reproduced cultural stereotypes

“Women expressed their concern regarding cultural stereotypes based on race and stigma associated with their Black female identity. For example, when asked about the relevance of HIV/AIDS messages to women, one participant stated that messages make her feel “labeled” and decrease her self-esteem. Women described feelings of frustration and negative stigma related to Black health. One participant suggested being pigeonholed by media professionals and that campaigns appear to use a superficial approach to representation by including a broad range of people in campaign material. ”

Fear of stigma

“Participants were afraid of peer judgment if they brought up the topic of HIV/AIDS. They felt constrained from stating concerns about the issue among peers because they said HIV/AIDS is associated with promiscuity, limited income, or… drug use.”

Lack of complex relative information

“Participants complained of campaign messages that failed to either offer complex information or connect to their regional concerns. Study participants wanted further discussion of preventative measures for avoiding HIV/AIDS in order to make informed decisions. One study participant rationalized campaign content by stating that complex information may not be applicable to a broader audience. In an example of regional information, participants recommended the inclusion of local testing locations and resource hubs.”

Turpin’s study suggests that when designing campaigns to specific demographic groups, communicators should work to make sure messages do “not reinforce pre-existing negative perceived constraints.”

2013 Public Relations Journal

Tiphane P. Turpin, Georgetown University

Posted: August 11, 2014
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