Using Image Advertising to Promote Prevention and Wellness

The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in the U.S., but it’s also known for advertising, especially beer.  Like television, print and electronic advertising everywhere, a good number of these ads model attractive young people.   

Have you ever wondered why multi-billion dollar companies, such as those promoting beer drinking, spend tens and hundreds of millions of dollars portraying attractive models using their products?  The short answer is they are very effective.  Effective in driving sales for their products and brand, whether the product is beer, cars, clothing or something else.   

Here is another question.  Why don’t we see more attractive models being used to effectively “sell” healthy, non-substance lifestyles?  For one reason.  We are just used to providing negative statistics and images highlighting the prevalence and severity of substance use and problems.   

However, research has shown that negative messages are less likely to viewed as accurate and believed, and are oftentimes less effective at influencing substance use behaviors than providing positive content.  In addition, the use of positive models and images is supported by behavioral theory, such as Social Cognitive Theory, Developmental Psychology of Self-Concept and others.   

With that knowledge, the key question is how do we as health specialists and parents start using more positive models and images to increase the impact we have on preventing and reducing substance use habits among our clients and kids?  Below are a two quick steps to using image advertising using positive wellness models to promote healthy habits and avoidance of substance use.     

Step #1: Provide Positive Models and Images of Our Target Audience Engaged in Specific Wellness Habits 

The purpose of this key first step is to create evocative images and a mental picture of the healthy behavior or lifestyle in the mind of your youth or adults.  The best and quickest way to do this is to use vivid terms or phrases alone, or in combination with pictures that reinforce the terms and represent our audience.      

For example, the statement “Young people who engage in regular physical activity tend to feel energetic, sleep better, and look more active, fit and confident” uses vivid image-terms including “energetic,” “active,” “fit,” and “confident” that paint a powerful mental picture of young people who exercise regularly.  This type of positive communication alone is very effective in motivating youth and adults to adopt, increase and maintain concrete wellness habits to enhance well-being and personal success. 

Positive image communication can also be supported with pictures or video of positive wellness models.  These models should be representative of your audience in terms of gender, ethnicity and age so that your audience can “see themselves” in the illustrations or video.   

Below are a couple of examples of positive modeling, along with vivid image terms, that together paint positive wellness images of, in this case, young people.  They only need to be linked to a specific health behavior to motivate your audience to adopt the behavior or lifestyle being modeled.  For example, getting regular aerobic exercise and eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, are portrayed in the two illustrations below.   



Step #2: Show How One or More Substance Use Habits Harm the Positive Wellness Models and Images 

Once you’ve communicated positive, appealing wellness models and images through the use of vivid terms and perhaps illustrations, the next step is simply to show how one or more substance use behaviors harms those models/images.  This is the step necessary for connecting and addressing prevention along with wellness. 

This is most efficiently and effectively accomplished using descriptive text.  For example, the statement “Alcohol use can get in the way of getting regular exercise and achieving your fitness goals of being in shape and feeling fit and active” illustrates how a specific substance use behavior (alcohol use) harms attaining positive images and a healthy lifestyle (being in-shape, fit and active).   

One caution must be observed related to this second step.  I strongly recommend NOT using negative images, illustrations or video to portray harm resulting from substance use.  Otherwise you will increase the potential for incurring opposite “boomerang” effects that can result from using negative content and imagery. 

Limitations of Image Communication 

Like all health communication strategies, there are limitations.  Using positive models and images might not be effective for everyone in your audience.  For this reason, I recommend also including non-image positive outcomes resulting from your targeted wellness behaviors to broaden message reach and effectiveness. 

For example, stating that a health habit results in getting more or better sleep, improves self-confidence, increases energy, or enhances physical performance are all positive, non-image results that can be attributed to engaging in various types of healthy habits.   

Another limitation of using appearance-based image messages is they may cause some anxiety about not having a “perfect” physique.  For this reason, I highly recommend including only images supporting a healthy body image.  These include using feeling-good and not just looking-good images, providing a variety of healthy looking but not “perfect” youth or adult models, emphasizing engaging in healthy habits, and conveying the message that “fit and healthy doesn’t mean perfect.”   


In conclusion, image advertising has tremendous potential to effectively and efficiently promote prevention and wellness behaviors and lifestyles among youth and adults, like it has successfully influenced the purchasing behaviors and brand loyalty of individuals over decades of use by large companies.  But it will take an explicit effort by health specialists and parents to avoid the use of typical negative images and statistics and replace them with positive models, images and content when communicating with their audience.  

For more information related to this topic, learn about the Behavior-Image Model: http://preventionpluswellness.com/the-behavior-image-model/ 

and the Prevention Plus Wellness Logic Model: http://preventionpluswellness.com/wp-lib/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/PPW-Logic-Model-1.18.16.pdf 

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