Can Marketing Save Lives? Review

One Sunday afternoon, I took a trip to the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill to see their temporary exhibition Can Marketing Save Lives?. The exhibition looks at some highlight health campaigns of the past century. 

Each campaign was very much a product of its time and while some were obviously outdated, all provided a snapshot into past medical concerns and ways in which the media has played a pivotal role in the reception of public information.

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases, Ministry of Health during WW2 

 

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This simple and easy-to-remember idiom, popularised in the interwar years, was aimed at encouraging the public to use a handkerchief.  

The idiom was more recently revised into the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it campaign’, which made use of much more imperative language.  

Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant? Saatchi and Saatchi 1969

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This advert was initially deemed too controversial to appear to the public, featuring a pregnant man. This advert definitely made use of the shock factor as means of promoting contraception.  

Is your body coming between you and the opposite sex? Ministry of Health 1975-80

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This is a very problematic campaign for me, using body shaming in a heteronormative setting to promote weight loss. However, I have to remember that this advert is a product of its time, and that the movies behind the campaign were to promote a healthy lifestyle. It is a good example of how dramatically health campaigns have changed in the past 20 years.  

The exhibition split the campaigns into three ‘ages’: The Interwar Years (1917-1985), the Age of Fear (1986-2005) and the Age of Participation (2006-2017). This helped the viewer to navigate the general changes to healthcare approaches.  

One question was on my mind throughout: who is the most responsible for public health? Is it the Ministry of Health and their public campaigns, or the individual themselves? Are we responsible for accepting healthcare advice?  

There is no doubt that healthcare campaigns have proved very successful throughout British history. In 1980, smallpox was eradicated, no doubt following the success of smallpox vaccination campaigns in the 1970s. However, I would have liked to see more of the ethical questions which were hinted at in the exhibition.  

The display was small, with the whole exhibition fitting on the back all of the Temporary Exhibitions section of the museum. I particularly liked the video wall, which allowed the viewer to see adverts from 1950s onwards.  

Above all, this display highlighted how medical fact can be used to influence public opinion: be it through patriotism, fear or independence.  

The exhibition is open until 26th May, 2019 - check it out if you have a chance!

Sophia Luu