Maternal Health Messaging: Does It Work?

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By: Tim Thomas, Senior Advisor, MHTF

Since the Safe Motherhood Initiative began in 1987, lots of catch phrases and tag lines have been deployed to raise awareness of our issues.

• Every minute, of every day, a woman dies giving life.
• No woman should die giving life.
• Maternal deaths are preventable.
• Invest in women – it pays.
• When women survive, nations thrive.
• Family planning saves women’s lives

Many of these and other messages have been brainstormed in closed settings among program, research and advocacy professionals all of whom have great intentions, but little if any expertise in communications and marketing. Rarely (never?) have I seen communications professionals engaged by maternal health policy advocates to systematically develop messages targeted at various populations with proven methodologies.

What seems to work in English is thought to work in Arabic… (but more often than not Arabic isn’t thought of at all). What sounds compelling to NGO ears may not resonate at all in the corporate sector whose financial and logistical support our sector needs. What works for maternal health professionals who know the issues inside and out isn’t likely to penetrate the vox populi where grassroots activism and advocacy are sorely lacking.

Traditional market research on maternal health messaging has not been carried out to any great extent and although it’s expensive, it could yield some potent clues to what resonates among various audiences. Unless and until messages are professionally developed and widely tested, their impact will be unpredictable and serendipitous.

The good news is that the world’s policy makers seem to be waking up to the tragedies of maternal death and disability – we’re seeing new high-level policy deliberations, new funding mechanisms, and new champions of our issues from a range of sectors.

So what has caused this invigorated attention to maternal health? What messages are out there that can be attributed to this new momentum? What tag lines and catch phrases are helping to raise the profile of our issues?
Is it the message?
Is it the messenger?
Is it the medium?
Or is it something else entirely….?

And what should our sector do to develop and test messages targeted to specific demographics? Is that kind of investment of time and money wise?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.