Kelley professor studying what works – and what doesn’t – in health advertising and messaging

If you see a sign advertising a $10 flu shot, would you walk into the store? What if that sign said the shot is worth $50 but you’ll pay only $10, which is an 80 percent discount?

Helen Colby, assistant professor of marketing at the Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus, and Meng Li, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver, recently received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They’ll study what motivates people to sign up for preventive healthcare services: Are people more likely to sign up when services are advertised more like consumer goods rather than typical healthcare visits or treatments?

“Health messaging tends to be very focused on the risk and benefits to people, but we argue that isn’t very effective. People have trouble processing risk. However, people make consumer decisions every day. So we’re asking: if you advertise healthcare services in a way that's similar to the way people see things advertised every day (in a way they are more comfortable with), will it be more effective?” said Colby.

The team has already conducted pilot studies that considered advertisements for flu shots. In these, consumers were asked how likely they were to get a flu shot in different risk and discount scenarios.

Colby and Li found that framing the $10 cost of getting a flu shot to the consumer as an 80% discount provided by insurance was twice as effective at increasing interest, as compared to changing the information in the advertisement about the risk of getting the flu from five percent to 20 percent.

In other words, people are more moved by saving money than the impact on their health.

Are people more likely to sign up for preventative healthcare services when those services are advertised like consumer goods, rather than typical healthcare visits or treatments?