An academic-marketing collaborative to promote depression care: A tale of two cultures

Richard L Kravitz, Ronald M. Epstein, Robert A Bell, Aaron B. Rochlen, Paul Duberstein, Caroline H. Riby, Anthony F. Caccamo, Christina K. Slee, Camille S. Cipri, Debora A Paterniti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objectives: Commercial advertising and patient education have separate theoretical underpinnings, approaches, and practitioners. This paper aims to describe a collaboration between academic researchers and a marketing firm working to produce demographically targeted public service anouncements (PSAs) designed to enhance depression care-seeking in primary care. Methods: An interdisciplinary group of academic researchers contracted with a marketing firm in Rochester, NY to produce PSAs that would help patients with depressive symptoms engage more effectively with their primary care physicians (PCPs). The researchers brought perspectives derived from clinical experience and the social sciences and conducted empirical research using focus groups, conjoint analysis, and a population-based survey. Results were shared with the marketing firm, which produced four PSA variants targeted to gender and socioeconomic position. Results: There was no simple, one-to-one relationship between research results and the form, content, or style of the PSAs. Instead, empirical findings served as a springboard for discussion and kept the creative process tethered to the experiences, attitudes, and opinions of actual patients. Reflecting research findings highlighting patients' struggles to recognize, label, and disclose depressive symptoms, the marketing firm generated communication objectives that emphasized: (a) educating the patient to consider and investigate the possibility of depression; (b) creating the belief that the PCP is interested in discussing depression and capable of offering helpful treatment; and (c) modelling different ways of communicating with physicians about depression. Before production, PSA prototypes were vetted with additional focus groups. The winning prototype, "Faces," involved a multi-ethnic montage of formerly depressed persons talking about how depression affected them and how they improved with treatment, punctuated by a physician who provided clinical information. A member of the academic team was present and consulted closely during production. Challenges included reconciling the marketing tradition of audience segmentation with the overall project goal of reaching as broad an audience as possible; integrating research findings across dimensions of words, images, music, and tone; and dealing with misunderstandings related to project scope and budget. Conclusion: Mixed methods research can usefully inform PSAs that incorporate patient perspectives and are produced to professional standards. However, tensions between the academic and commercial worlds exist and must be addressed. Practice implications: While rewarding, academic-marketing collaborations introduce tensions which must be addressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-419
Number of pages9
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Advertising
  • Depression
  • Health communication
  • Patient activation
  • Social marketing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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