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This week I presented four BBC Media Action public service advertisements (PSAs) at Women Deliver in Kuala Lumpur.

The conference is focused on investing in women and girls and in the Cinema Corner, a mini festival of sorts, it’s showcasing films from around the world that explore issues around gender, and sexual and reproductive health.

At BBC Media Action in India we have been working in health communication for 13 years. We've created communication campaigns about condom use, sexually transmitted infections, blood safety and tuberculosis, and now we're working on family health including maternal and child health and nutrition.

A BIG idea

When I introduced our PSAs at the Cinema Corner, I shared with the audience some of the principles that we apply in making them. You use an insight drawn from research and deep immersion in the subject. You try and create an idea that is BIG – which means it is unique and extendable. And then you execute it so that it stands out in the clutter and is engaging, and ultimately effective.

There has to be a very clear communication objective and a desired response. You must create a stimulus to elicit that response. And the biggest creative challenge is to tell that story in 60 seconds or 30 seconds because a PSA is usually not longer than that.

A song

The four films we shared were on four divergent themes with very different objectives.

The first, entitled Ek Teen Do, which means one-three-two in Hindi, is on birth spacing. It communicates the advice that there ought to be a three year gap between people’s first and second children to ensure both the child and mother stay as healthy as can be. But we didn’t relay that message directly. Instead we created Ek-Teen-Do, a mantra or song, to show that birth spacing can result in more resources for the family.


A scarf

The second film, Tie A Knot, is on birth preparedness. For our target audiences, birth is seen as so commonplace that there is no special planning required. So we created an aide memoire using a ubiquitous accessory - a hand-spun red cotton scarf. The viewer is prompted that when there’s good news, tie four knots!


A chase

Next up was Stolen Moments – a PSA on risk perception in condom use. The challenge here was to make men prioritise condom use over everything else. The film shows a couple who really want to get lost in the romance of the moment. But they say: “No – we’re not going to have sex unless we have a condom with us!” I’ll say no more but you should watch how this results in a wild goose chase after a condom!

And an itch

The fourth and final film I showed was to encourage treatment seeking behaviour for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), which still has a lot of stigma around it in India.  Most people shy away from treatment. They are either embarrassed or afraid, even if STI is proving to be a road block in their lives. This PSA addresses the first barrier. So we dramatized the 'itch', one of the commonest symptoms of STI. Watch how the 'itchy man' finds his way to the clinic.

In that dark hall, there were appreciative murmurs and outright laughter. These four little films resonated although they were created for a completely different audience.

This proves the power of narrative and emotion over messaging. And it reminded us once again that through every one of our outputs we need to connect.

Only then will our work be effective.

Related links

BBC Media Action's work in India

BBC Media Action's work on health

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