8.2.2  Types of appeals in health communication

In this section, you will learn about different types of appeals that can be used in health communication. These include: fear-arousal, humour, logical/factual appeals, emotional appeals, one-sided and two sided messages, positive and negative appeals.

The fear-arousal appeal

This type of message is conveyed to frighten and arouse people into action by emphasising the serious outcome from not taking action. Symbols such as dying people, coffins, gravestones or skulls may be used. Fear-arousal appeals might be effective for a person with little or no schooling. Evidence suggests that mild fear can arouse interest, create concern and lead to behaviour change. However, creating too much fear is not appropriate.


The message in this type of health communication is conveyed in a funny way such as in a cartoon (Figure 8.3). Humour is a very good way of attracting interest and attention. It can also serve as a useful method to lighten the tension when dealing with serious subjects.

A poster message about dental hygiene.
Figure 8.3  Some poster messages are a mixture of humour and health information. (Photo: Joshua Trevino)

Enjoyment and entertainment can result in highly effective recall and learning. However, humour does not always lead to changes in beliefs and attitudes. What one person finds funny another person may not. Humour should be used sensitively so as not to offend others.

The logical/factual appeal

The message is conveyed to convince people by giving facts, figures and information — for example, facts related to HIV/AIDS, its causes, route of transmission and prevention methods. The logical/factual appeal carries weight with a person of high educational level. Information on its own is usually not enough to change behaviours and various appeals must be tried to see what works (Figure 8.4).

A community are gathered under a shelter listening to a health worker talk on health messages.
Figure 8.4  Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to communicate health messages so they appeal to most of the audience. (Source: UNICEF Ethiopia/Indrias Getachew)

The emotional appeal

The message is transmitted by arousing emotions and feelings rather than giving facts and figures. A poster or leaflet might use this approach by showing smiling babies or wealthy families with a latrine and associating such images to create a positive healthy impression. A less educated person will often be more convinced by simple emotional appeals from people they trust.

One-sided and two-sided messages

One-sided messages only present the advantages of taking action and fail to mention any possible disadvantages — for example, educating mothers only about the benefits of the oral contraceptive pill, but not explaining the side-effects or risks associated with the pill.

Presenting only one side of an argument may be effective provided your audience will not be exposed to different views at other times. However, if they are likely to hear opposing information, such as the side-effects from a drug, they may be suspicious about taking your advice in the future. It is better to be honest. If communication is through mass media such as radio, TV or newspapers, the audience may only grasp part of the message or selectively pick up the points that they agree with.

A two-sided message presents both the advantages and disadvantages of taking action. It is appropriate if:

  • The audiences are used to being exposed to different views
  • The audiences are literate
  • You are face-to-face with individuals or groups: this makes it easier to present both sides and make sure that the audience understands the issues.
  • Mrs Ayantu is a Health Extension Practitioner who works in a village called Bika. Mrs Ayantu plans to give health education sessions to her local community on certain issues which mention only the benefits of taking action. What communication appeal would be more appropriate for Mrs Ayantu to prepare?

  • The type of communication appeal that Mrs Ayantu plans to prepare are one-sided messages, but it would be more appropriate if she could prepare two-sided messages so her community can understand more about the health issues under discussion. Not only that — they will understand that she is trying to give them ‘the whole picture’.

Positive appeals and negative appeals

Positive appeals include communications that ask people to do something positive, such as exclusive breastfeeding for your child, or using a latrine. Whereas negative appeals are where the communication asks people not to do something, for example do not bottlefeed your child, or do not defacate in the bush.

Negative appeals use terms such as ‘avoid’ or ‘don’t’ to discourage people from performing harmful behaviours. But most health educators agree that it is better to be positive and promote beneficial behaviours instead of relying on negative appeals.

  • Now you have read all the different sorts of appeals, look at them again and think about occasions when you have seen them used and the sort of audience and messages that have been involved. Then answer the following questions:

    1. On the whole do you think that positive appeals are likely to be more successful?
    2. Is an appeal which draws on a great deal of fear likely to be successful?
    3. Is an appeal with lots of facts and figures likely to be more successful with an educated audience or an audience with few literacy skills?
  • We hope you were able to give answers like these:

    1. Positive appeals do seem to work better than negative one’s because they help people see the benefits of change.
    2. On the whole, mild fear may help drive home a message, but a very strong and fearful message might put people off.
    3. Facts and figures tend to work better with educated audiences.

8.2.1  The message

8.3  The channel