Principles of Mass Media
To most people mass media means television, radio and
newspapers. This is partly correct, but education makes use of a much wider
arsenal of media, such as posters, leaflets, brochures, videos, etc. A general
characteristic of mass media is that, in principle, nobody is excluded, mass
media are public, accessible to everybody. But there are also many differences.
The best-known, that is, television and radio, reach virtually everybody,
contrary to a poster in a station, whose message is seen only by train
passengers. Television exerts a great influence, not only because this powerful
medium reaches many people, but also because it has an aura of authority.
Television is also a penetrating medium because it has an audio as well as a
visual dimension which can be used to great advantage given the present level of
The printed media, and radio in particular, rather trail behind
this development. In the world of the media and in drug and health education
circles, a distinction is often made between high-key and low key use of mass
media. These concepts apply to the medium of choice, as well as to the way in
which media are used. Television is the most frequently used high-key medium
because it is so large-scale, is generally considered to be authoritative and
reliable and offers many possibilities. Printed media, like newspapers, weeklies
and brochures are much more low-key. Not everybody is literate, reads the same
newspaper, or the same weekly. Besides, exposure to an educational message or an
advertisement is much more indirect; it is part of a number of other messages
and so there is selectivity on the part of the reader.
The following example of a recent high-key American mass media
campaign can serve to illustrate this somewhat theoretical point (17). The
United States of America has contended with probably the largest drug problem in
the Western world, and for some years a "War on drugs" has been declared.
Recently, instead of strong emphasis on tracing and prosecuting drug
traffickers, there is now more stress on discouraging Americans to use drugs,
with slogans like "Using is losing".
(17) Strategy and Research Task Force Campaign
Recommendation. The Media Advertising Partnership for a Drug Free America
(MAPDA). New York. 1986
At the end of 1986, more than 200 American advertising agencies
set up the "Media Advertising Partnership for a Drug free America" (MAPDA) (18).
The largest anti-drug campaign ever initiated was begun in 1987 involving a
total budget of about 3 billion dollars. The organizers of this tremendous
campaign first carried out wide-range market research on the basis of which
about 50 different campaigns were developed. The campaign was split into three
main target groups - youngsters, adults between 18 and 35 and older people.
Youngsters were chosen because they are curious and have strong experimental
instincts. Adults aged between 18 and 35 are often indifferent to drug abuse,
are not aware of the risks and often assume the attitude: "Some use drugs, some
drink too much". The third large target group of older people is furthest away
from drug abuse, having very little knowledge of drugs and many misconceptions.
The anti-drug campaigns set up are very varied. Besides those already mentioned,
there are separate campaigns for numerous target groups such as sportsmen and
women, show business personalities, opinion leaders, educators. Special
campaigns were run for marijuana, cocaine, crack and heroin. There is no general
emphasis on the damaging long-term effects of drug abuse but, particularly in
the campaigns for youngsters, much stress is laid on the short term adverse
effects. The campaigns are very high-key, using a dramatic tone, a double
vocabulary, a language couched in teenage slang. TV commercials are as shocking
as they are oversimplified to pound home messages to the public, such as "Drugs
are a dead end". Full page advertisements are printed in well-known papers and
magazines like Playboy and include emotional slogans such as "Cocaine, it can
cost you your brain".
(18) See Note.