Fear and Hope in Healthcare Marketing

Getting health information out to consumers is an important, even an essential task. Research shows that U.S. consumers want and need health information.

But U.S. consumers also fail to take action on information they have.

Here are some actions people know they should take to improve their health:

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Eat less processed food
  • Exercise more
  • Limit alcohol consumption

Research has shown that people generally know they should do these things, and that people generally don’t take these actions.


As medical bloggers, we believe that one of our most important jobs is sharing accurate, accessible information.

Doctors’ websites can provide a trusted information source for patients, answer common questions efficiently, and help visitors make positive lifestyle changes.

But should your information come with a side order of fear or hope? Which is more likely to lead to beneficial actions?


Fear works, according to research. Smokers told about the chances of death from smoking were more likely to experience a fight-or-flight response, and were unlikely to go directly back to their cigarettes.

Smoking is the #1 preventable cause of death. 50% of cigarette smokers die from that addiction. That information makes smoking a natural choice for fear-based communication.

Government fear campaigns have reduced smokers from almost half of American adults to less than 15 percent.

But fear-based communication can cause people to avoid your website, or add to anxiety.


Hope and encouragement can work better than fear-based messages, according to a Cornell study, but it depends on the individual. Chances are, your website doesn’t have that level of customizability. But their research may explain why it’s not as clear that hope-based messages work. Focusing on loss affects people more consistently than focusing on potential gain.

But that might make it all the more important to use hope-based messages at your website.

Revolutions, they say, are based on victories. Smokers who learn that their heart rate and blood pressure will get back to normal in one hour after their last cigarette may experience hope. Within one day, excess carbon monoxide leaves the body and the risk of heart disease begins to drop.

These messages can be effective.

If your goal is to encourage lifestyle change, we’d say that you probably need to include both fear and hope messages — with lots of information to back them up.








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