A taste from the past: vintage public health campaign posters!

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We have discussed before about the use of social media in Public Health, what seems to be the way forward in Public Health campaings. But what about the way backward (in time, that is; in some cases also in content)? How were Public Health campaigns in the past? What has changed and what remains similar?

I recently came across this book by the WHO, which guides the reader through decades of public health posters from different parts of the world and concerning different issues. All the book chapters can be downloaded for free and they make quite an interesting read! I also found more vintage public health posters here ; finally I discovered a very interesting exhibition of posters about STDs over the past 100 years here!

The WHO book has different sections, according to the subject covered. I thought I would make a different categorization, namely according to the method used to persuade! Note that the list below is by no means exhaustive and one poster might qualify for more than one category!

  • Rhyming: Designed to address the poet inside the public, rhyming posters are trying to make a message memorable and are often humorous.  Personal favourites:
  • Then we have examples of posters that are  addressing to raise emotional reactions to the audience. These feelings can range from happiness and feeling useful to fear and guilt…
  • One of my favourite categories of posters, are the culture-orientated ones. Since we are based in Switzerland, here are two characteristic examples. The first one uses the love of the nation for ice-hockey to tell them that they need to protect themselves against HIV and the second one translates the costs for healthcare for alcoholism to…cows!
  • Another thing I noticed, is how things change over time but somehow remain similar. Then it was tuberculosis, afterwards it was SARS and more recently bird flue...

….although some campaings seem to have worked:

Going through old Public Health poster campaings is -almost inevitably- bound to cause laughter: borderline sexism (incredible amount of syphilis prevention posters focusing on women as if they were the only carriers for instance) or simply tongue-in-cheek comments are all there. Enjoy!

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Karthik

Public sector organisations can now heed lessons learned and incorporate findings into the planning and delivery of effective public health social media campaigns.

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