Mass media

The key to this intervention Mass media interventions usually involve developing and placing advertising in a range of text-based and visual media (including outdoor advertising, newspapers, magazines and online). The adverts seek to give information about a particular HIV topic or service. They need to be easy to comprehend, engaging and cultural appropriate.

What is the activity?

Mass media interventions usually involve developing and placing advertising in a range of text-based and visual media (such as newspapers, magazines and the internet) to give information about a particular HIV topic or service.

Such activities are frequently part of campaigns that can incorporate the key messages and imagery used in associated small media. In this way, mass media and small media complement one another, helping to increase recognition among the target population.

Strengths and limitations

Mass media advertising extends the reach of interventions to those who are not likely to come into contact with service providers or outreach staff. Also, those who see such advertising can do so in their own time and space, without worrying about who may have seen them picking up a leaflet in a public space.

Reading about HIV in everyday contexts (when flicking through a community newspaper, or when browsing the internet for instance) can help people to consider that the issues might affect them. This helps HIV to be regarded as an issue that should not be stigmatised.

Carefully considered placement in publications that are designed to reach a clearly articulated target audience makes mass media advertising more cost effective. The use of targeted publications also means that interventions can be tailored for specific audiences.

On their own, mass media adverts cannot be expected to result in behavioural change. However, they are an essential part of the environment within which HIV prevention need can be met. An advert can only expect to achieve a moment’s glance from most people that encounter it.

Where does it happen

Mass media adverts are usually placed in media targeting African people in the UK including language- or nationality-specific newspapers, websites and magazines; and in media targeting young people and people with diagnosed HIV. Printed posters of mass media adverts, can also be displayed in HIV or African service settings and commercial venues where a large proportion of the clientele are African. In the NAHIP partnership such venues include some hairdressers, barbers, nail bars, cafes and some shops.

Frequently delivered alongside ...

Issues to consider

In order for a mass media advert to gain readers’ interest and trust, it must be well designed, and submitted as a high resolution digital image to the specification of the publisher.

Although placing adverts in magazines can cost very little for each person who might see it, the total cost of developing, testing, designing, and placing a mass media advert is often quite high. All costs should be established well in advance of development.

Significant research should be undertaken to ensure that identified publications have the reach and the audience that is required for a particular intervention. Publishers hold detailed information on their readership, and this should be investigated closely before time and money is wasted in the wrong location. For instance, although many BME-targeted publications claim that people of diverse ethnicities are included in their readership (which is likely to be the case), the proportion of African readers would have to be quite high in order to reach desired saturation for an African HIV prevention mass media intervention.


The outcomes of mass media interventions are primarily information-based, and examples include:

  • Knowing HIV exists and understanding the harm it can cause (see associated needs).
  • Having a clearer understanding about how and why different sexual acts carry differing risks of HIV transmission (see associated needs).
  • Knowing how to correctly use male and female condoms (see associated needs).
  • Understanding the benefits of knowing their own HIV status (see associated needs here and here).
  • Increased requests for (and uptake of) STI screening (see associated needs).
  • Increased awareness of other services that they can access to better help them meet a range of needs, including HIV prevention need (see associated needs).
  • Increased consideration that the sex they have could risk HIV transmission (see associated needs).

Monitoring and evaluation

A key element of monitoring the production of mass media interventions is ensuring that an archive of interventions at various phases of their development, as well as an archive of final products is maintained for future reference. This allows agencies, partners and researchers to trace the history of mass media production.

Monitoring of mass media placement requires keeping dated copies of print publications that hold the advert, as well as requesting that website providers give a breakdown of page impressions and click-through rates.

As mass media interventions are likely to be developed alongside small media and other associated interventions, similar forms of evaluation will apply. At various phases of mass media development, the ideas, design and language used in the intervention should be pre-tested with people in the target population. Devising a variety of possible executions at this time enables those engaging in pre-testing to articulate which particular aspects of different executions they prefer.

The extent to which mass media adverts have reached those in specific settings or geographical areas can be assessed by coverage surveys, where individuals are asked if they recall seeing a particular item. Coverage questions can be included in broader surveys, which reduces costs, and also means that other demographics can be cross-tabulated so that there is a greater understanding about which sub-groups of the target population are most likely to have seen (or not seen) the intervention.

Page last updated: 17 July 2013

Case study

Better to Know


In 2002 THT devised a mass media campaign called It’s better to know to promote reasons for HIV testing among African people. In 2004, the same campaign was funded by NAHIP to run again in a broader array of African and black print media with circulation sizes ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 readers. Those ads were placed in Celebrating Sistas, Live Woman’s Magazine, the Drum, Ugandan Times, Black Hair, Francophone Magazine, Positive Nation, Pride, The Trumpet and New Nation. The average cost per insertion was £1365, and insertions occurred between one and seven times in each paper or magazine.