Lights! Cameras! Storytelling! – The Power of Video in Health Communication.


The communication of health messages by moving image is not new!  Take a look at this video produced by the British Ministry of Health in 1945, warning of the dangers of sneezing in public (note his smoking a pipe in the movie theater is amusingly not mentioned!)

No, video messages for health are not new, but they are certainly more accessible and easier to make than they have ever been before.  Telling your story and broadcasting to the public through multimedia sharing sites such as You Tube and Vimeo has opened up opportunities to get your message across in a myriad of visually stimulating ways.  The proliferation of pocket camcorders, phone video cameras and movie editing software means your organization can dive in to this method with minimal financial investment.

Producer, Director and Actor Anthony Veneziale, shares some tips for making videos for health.

Be unexpected and surprising.

Between 1946 and 2011, the  the Central Office of Information in the UK was the government’s marketing and communications agency.  For anyone who has lived in the UK, these “government-sanctioned-horror-compacts” as described in this article by Tom Seymour were certainly unforgettable, unsettling citizens into avoiding a whole variety of dangerous behaviors. They sprang on unsuspecting TV viewers between their favorite shows and often stole production tactics from the horror movies of the time, packing a punch and definitely checking that ‘unexpected box.’  Coming in at barely 30 seconds, this example entitled ‘Julie knew her killer’ sends a powerful message about seat belt safety.

Make it visually interesting

Making a video, that looks good and has fun, captures and retains the attention of your audience. Yes, even health messages can look, or sound, cool.  One such successful YouTuber with his own channel of videos is Dr Zubin Damania, also known as ‘Z Dogg MD’.  His video productions make use of entertaining mock music videos featuring popular songs while getting the message out on various health issues.  In the example below, an R ‘n B remix is used to discuss reduction of hospital readmission. Say wha?!

Know your goals

As with all social media activities, be sure to asses your expectations of your video communication.  What is it you want this video to do? One amusing and effective information film by the Durham Academy school admministrators was used in conjunction with a health announcement about head lice in the school.  While hitting those targets of being entertaining, interesting and short, it also manages to include useful information on dealing with head lice!

[Note click on the link within the video to watch directly through you tube as viewing through Vimeo has been disabled by the video creators.]

Experiment with everything

Non profits and other health communicators have only just begun to explore the possibilities of using video for health communication.  There is a lot of room for creative expression so don’t be afraid to experiment in how your convey your organization’s message.  The following interactive video, entitled ‘Condom, No condom?’ was produced for the National Health Service (NHS) in UK as part of a sexual health campaign.  The video allowed users to choose whether or not a young party goer buys, and uses, condoms. Follow up videos show the consequences of these choices which include sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

The strength of these tools is not so much in the building of an audience (going viral is actually a rare experience) but rather for effectively engaging with supporters you already have.  Again, integrating your video making with other social media tools such as your website or blog, will maximize the impact of your messages.


6 thoughts on “Lights! Cameras! Storytelling! – The Power of Video in Health Communication.

  1. You did an excellent job of illustrating your point with well-chosen videos. The ‘Julie knew her killer’ was completely shocking! Messages like this target people at the interpersonal level (not just at the individual level). People may play fast and loose with their own behavior but may be more conservative and thoughtful when their actions impact loved ones. Great post!

  2. What an excellent post!

    Here are my thoughts:
    (1) The short clip ‘Julie knew her killer’ really sends a strong message to the public about the importance of wearing a seat belt. Very good choice of video – short and to-the-point!

    (2) Visually interesting or (I would add) appealing is very important in terms of catching audience’s attention. Again, the video or this song captures and disseminates the message very well.

    (3) I’d say knowing the goal is the most important step out of all, since setting a goal in whatever we do helps us focus on what is truly important and eliminate the noises along the way.

    (4) Last but not least, the willingness to try things out is definitely the driving force to accomplish any goals we set for ourselves.


  3. Hi Ruth,
    The points you mention provide a good framework for adding power to the video and engaging the audience. I really enjoyed watching the videos you posted in this blog. I thought the readmission video was fun and I see this video directed more to health practitioners. The point of experimenting with everything is about finding innovative ways to get the message across and I like the video example you provided to explain this point.

  4. Hey Ruth,

    Great job digging in the recesses of YouTube! I thought each one showed a different type of storytelling for very different audiences. I enjoyed looking at the videos and some made me laugh while others were disturbing enough to be good lessons. I think the art of the PSA has been lost a bit in recent years and we are now having a renaissance.People are using other tactics besides scare tactics (I’m basing this off early 90’s anti-drug campaigns). using humor, potent visuals, interactive features, first-person views, and just good camera work are really helping these message stick in people’s minds. I plan on keeping this examples in mind for the future.

  5. Ruth,

    What a wonderful, well thought out blog! I have to admit, I look forward to reading your blogs; I enjoy the sense of humor you apply and the way your clearly communicate your message The videos you included, showcased how powerful videos are in public health, and why we should tap into it. The steps you mentioned are crucial ones to consider when telling a story through a video production. I will be coming back and share this blog with your permission. Great post! 🙂

  6. Great choice of videos! They demonstrate the tips that you have for using videos in health communication. Plus, they’re entertaining. I like that the last video makes the viewer choose what they would do under peer pressure and links it to another video with your corresponding choice. It’s extremely engaging while keeping the goal of safer sex practices as the theme. Great job!

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