Beginning about 30 years ago, health educators working in developing nations were concerned that key health messages were not being communicated properly to their intended audiences. Flyers, advertisements, presentations, and traditional education were simply not getting the point across. Issues like HIV and malaria continued to increase at alarming rates. And even when people learned about the topic, they would not necessarily make any behavior change that would lead to a healthier lifestyle.
In an attempt to find more effective ways of impacting their audiences, these educators teamed up with writers and professional entertainers to try something different: they would embed the health message into soap operas, radio dramas, TV shows, plays, and movies. Audiences were exposed to these programs and loved them. They did not see them as educational vehicles, but rather as just great entertainment.
The success of these campaigns was significant. Researchers were able to demonstrate that the campaigns not only communicated messages effectively, but also impacted viewer’s behavior. The idea was simple: when people were invested in a story and cared about the characters, they would more readily learn about a health issue and adjust unhealthy behavioral patterns.
E-E campaigns have increasingly gained acceptance and funding through various organizations including The Kaiser Family Foundation and USAID.
Today, E-E programs are used both in developing and developed nations. Research has shown its effectiveness in both unsaturated and saturated media environments. For example, in the US, E-E programs have been incorporated into primetime TV shows such as Friends, Desperate Housewives, and daytime soaps.
Is E-E just another word for edutainment?
No. E-E places the emphasis on the entertainment. If the story and the characters are not compelling, the education cannot be properly disseminated. The audience needs to know and love the characters and be transported by the story for the message to be properly digested.
E-E is not didactic preaching. E-E is not boring, contrived characters. E-E is not something you have to watch, but something you want to watch.