If Intentions Are Clear

Attempting to influence the way people think and behave is one of the key driving forces behind communication at every level. Whether we are just trying to convince our friends to come out on the weekend or win an argument, persuasive communication is a part of everyday life.

Everyone seems to have more of a problem with this sort of communication when it comes in the form of marketing as people feel it aims is to brainwash and manipulate people to buy things they don’t need. Although this may be true persuasive communication may have many benefits for the public, especially in the field of health communication where people can be influenced to adopt more healthy behaviours.

In the article The Role of Theory in Developing Effective Health Communications Fishbein and Capella’s analyse the key links between behavioural theory and the formulation of communication strategies that aim to influence specific behaviours. This highlighted the importance of identifying the intentions and skills/abilities of the target audience before formulating a message.

When Will Behaviours Occur

A behaviour is most likely to occur when there is a strong intention to do something, the individual has the necessary skills or abilities, and there are no environmental or other constraints. Behaviour is also influenced by both societal norms as well as an individual’s attitude. This implies that things stopping people from changing their behaviour include the intentions of the individual, their abilities, and popular attitude. This has significant implications for health communication as the specific attribute constraining behavioural change must be identified before a targeted message can be developed.

Why People Behave Differently

Theory is important in identifying why some people perform behaviours and others do not and hence why some change their behaviour in response to a health message and others don’t. The most important thing to determine is the intention of the audience. After this you have to identify whether or not they act on that intention. It is essential for the development of health communication to work out whether  the message is targeted for individuals who have an intention to change but are constrained by their ability or environment, or if it is to be targeted to those that do not have an intention to change their behaviour. This clarification is highly important as the messages for the two groups will need to be very different if they are to be effective.

While behavioural theory does not tell us how to best design a communication message it does clearly define our target audience and the specific objective we are trying to achieve with the message.

Following this theory through to the development of the message seems to be a complicated process. Do you think a message that takes all of this theory into consideration is more likely to be effective than one which doesn’t?


Martin Fishbein & Joseph N. Cappella (2006) The Role of Theory in Developing Effective Health Communications. Journal of Communication. Vol 56. pp. s1-s17.


5 comments so far

  1. djasudasen on

    Your post really cleared up the use of the Behaviour Model when developing communications strategies for me. I now understand that there are two groups that you need to target in different ways – those who already have the intention but just need a trigger to act and those who don’t yet have the intention to change.

    One of the main failures of marketing campaigns is correctly defining the audience, targeting the message specifically to them, and then actually delivering the message to them in the right place. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

    I definitely think that a message that takes the theory into consideration would be more effective than one that doesn’t. If you look at some campaigns that have worked, the target audience is very clear.

  2. ashfonty on

    I agree with Diana that it would be no easy task to apply all the theory involved in creating a communication strategy. If you take the time and effort though, it definitely pays off!

    I think it would be a real challenge to target those that don’t have any intention to change. For example, in class we discussed quit smoking campaigns that are now starting to target those that don’t have an intention to quit. I particularly like that TV advert that show people trying to quit a few time, before finally suceeding. I think while it appeals to people that obviously want to quit, it would also hit an audience that maybe once tried to quit or that don’t intend to because they have seen others fail at it.

  3. selinamj on

    Glad I cleared things up Diana.
    Yeah I agree with both of you, although applying theory takes a bit of effort…it works.
    Ash, I agree targeting people with no intention to change is next to impossible, you would really have to work out each persons specific trigger and it would have to be pretty significant. But if you could find the key to changing the behaviour of those people….you would be rich!

  4. noelynn on

    Yes, I totally agree with the post and comments! The communication strategy that aims at those not intending to change poses a big challenge. It has a high probability of being unsuccessful. So it open doors to the communicator to develop a smarter approach.

    One of which and I think is the main approach would be to clarify intentions as much as possible. This post points it out clearly. To persuade someone to your side is not as simple as we thought sometimes. It takes you to be clear in your own stand so as to communicate clearly.

    Great post!

  5. axl1228 on

    Nice understandable post.
    To change other people’s mind is never easy. Communication sometimes cannot do more than informing. I would say, if we put these theory into consideration, we are not necessarily going to win the game, but if we don’t, we’ll definitely lose.

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