How do you put a value on your life?

Proving the concrete value of public health campaigns, with Carlos Grande, IPA Effectiveness Editor.

‘You can’t put a value on your health” is a cliché. It is also, at best, a half-truth.

As individuals, we might struggle to quantify numerically the impact on our finances of our current health or ill-health.

But when Governments and other bodies draw up policies for improving health or reducing preventable deaths across whole populations, they have access to official estimates that quantify exactly that.

These figures estimate the impact on public finances of everything from treating a long-term medical condition on the NHS to lost tax revenues when someone drops out of work through sickness, or even dies.

Likewise, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which advises on the cost effectiveness of drugs and other medical interventions, has a benchmark figure for the value of each year of quality of life enjoyed by patients after treatment against which to assess the viability of medical procedures. (In 2014, this figure was £30,000),

And when marketers are asked to translate health policies into communications initiatives to encourage people to reduce their risk of ill-health, they cannot afford to ignore such figures.

For it is often possible to use these numbers to judge whether or not a health initiative has paid back its marketing budget, purely in narrow financial terms.

This payback would be calculated with reference to the potential boost to the public purse if the incidence of a disease or cause of death declined, or was lower than projected, provided that this change could be credibly attributed to the health initiative in question.

Fortunately, effectiveness - like a person’s health – should not be assessed on a single measure, but by viewing a range of evidence.

This is particularly pertinent in the health sector, where it is extremely difficult to track the cause and path of changes in patients’ health and where desirable outcomes, such as faster diagnoses and increased survival rates, can actually lead to higher costs.

Over many years, therefore, the IPA Effectiveness Awards have rewarded public health marketing cases for demonstrating effectiveness in many different ways and over a variety of timeframes.

Public Health England’s ‘Stoptober’

This anti-smoking campaign delivered an estimated short-term payback of £16m in public savings from driving an extra 1.5m attempts to quit smoking in England.

‘Stoptober’ directly resulted in an estimated 70,000 fewer smokers in England. It is not really possible to put a value in the same way on the reports of increased well-being among these ex-smokers who quit (many had failed to quit before), or benefits to the friends and family who supported them.

The programme also attracted unprecedented levels of participation from local authorities and businesses. It was renewed every year for at least four years and has become a source of insights and imitation for health bodies internationally. It would be hard to quantify the full value from all these achievements.


The Department of Health’s ‘FAST’ Stroke Awareness

This campaign was described as “one of the most successful public awareness campaigns ever” by the National Audit Office. It led to demonstrable increases in awareness of the need for fast action by people close to potential stroke cases, uplift in the public’s intention to intervene, and a rise in stroke-related 999 calls.

It was estimated to have paid back £5 for every £1 invested. This was judged against very specific criteria – related to the number of stroke victims given thrombolysis treatment within a crucial time window. It cannot capture as precisely the full value created to stroke victims from being given faster medical relief. 

Public Health England's 'Be Clear on Cancer’

This campaign led to demonstrable increases in awareness of cancer symptoms, earlier diagnoses and speedier referrals to expert practitioners in the areas where the programme was piloted, compared to a control group. Research showed audiences had absorbed specific messages about individual cancer symptoms. The case demonstrated a short-term return of £1.26 for every £1 invested. But this relates only to one very specific strand (the financial case for a particular lung cancer treatment.

British Heart Foundation’s ‘You’ve Been Vinnied’

By popularising CPR techniques and encouraging bystanders to intervene in suspected heart attacks, this campaign is estimated to have saved approximately £48m for the public purse from an investment of £2m.

This indicative figure is based on comparing the value of an estimated 30 lives saved to a Government figure for the cost of a single transport accident fatality.

The case also cites much wider effects including significant rises in awareness of CPR and willingness to use it, and ambulance crews’ reports of increased bystander participation as proof of its success.

The experience cited in the UK cases has been mirrored in other markets, including New Zealand.

National Depression Initiative's 'The Journal'

This taboo-busting campaign in New Zealand combined a TV campaign, fronted by All Blacks Rugby legend, John Kirwan, with an online tool enabling self-analysis and support for individuals with symptoms of depression. Based on the savings generated by reducing likely visits to GPs and other public health costs, the campaign was shown to have paid back its investment 5:1.

Aside from the help the initiative provided directly to participants experiencing depression, the initiative has built wider knowledge by featuring in academic studies and a clinical trial. These impacts may be less measurable; they are no less meaningful.

It is uncomfortable to think of a precise financial value being put on an individual’s quality of health or survival.

If such numbers are then used as part of the business case for investing in particular health initiatives, they can also help to reduce preventable conditions and save lives.

Health marketers, like all other marketers, have a responsibility to evaluate how their budgets have been spent and explain what financial value they have created for organisations.

However, as the above cases show, genuinely effective marketers will analyse all the ways their work is creating value – not just those that can be easily measured in pounds and pence.