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A Winning Message Makes a Winning Cause


A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

It's the first thing you learn in Politics 101:
No cause wins without a compelling message that resonates with the voters.
  • pro-choice
  • tobacco-free kids
  • clean air, safe water
  • it's the economy, stupid
  • peace through strength
Whether we agree with them or not, a powerful message can be one of the most successful tools of any political or advocacy campaign. But messages succeed only when they're carefully researched, simple to understand and integrated into a broad campaign.

Successful message campaigns have helped elect presidents, pass laws, defeat bills and reinvigorate the debate around seemingly moribund advocacy movements.

The same can hold true in the fight to end AIDS.

Finding a Message

Finding a winning message involves a methodical and complex process. AIDS Action has commissioned Lake Sosin Snell and Perry, one of America's leading public opinion strategy firms to assist us in this continuing project.

There are two primary tools used to research and uncover resonant advocacy messages.

  • Focus Groups -- Carefully chosen individuals in groups of demographic and geographic diversity provide qualitative and incisive research into the political pulse of the American people. AIDS Action sat down with ordinary Americans from Atlanta to Milwaukee to gain a better sense of their attitudes and concerns about AIDS.


  • Polling -- Qualitative polling data can test messages and uncover attitudes among a scientific sample that reflects the views of the entire nation. AIDS Action tested themes from focus groups to determine the most resonant messages around AIDS.

Staying On Message

The successful use of a message strategy means integrating that message into as much of your communications as possible. Staying on message is just as important as finding the one that works. A well-researched advocacy message is your silver bullet -- the one issue that moves the most voters and drives interest about an advocacy movement.

For example, talking about AIDS treatment programs as an incentive for HIV testing appeals to the public's support for testing as a component of prevention and, consequently, increases support for treatment programs.

All Ships Rise

An advocacy campaign built around a specific message strategy reinvigorates concern around any broad advocacy movement.

An AIDS message focused on youth prevention engages the American people more than any other issue and will not only build support for increased prevention but, because it's the one AIDS issue that resonates most strongly, it stimulates concern about AIDS overall, thus building support for care, research and discrimination issues.

Winning with a Successful Message: A Case Study


For decades, anti-tobacco advocates fought cigarette smoking as a broad public health measure. And for decades, those advocates were frustrated by slow progress and political reluctance to enact anti-smoking laws.


After careful public opinion research, anti-tobacco advocates found that Americans had mixed feelings about government dictating what they could and couldn't do, regardless of the health consequences. But they did find that Americans were overwhelmingly concerned about youth smoking and tobacco companies that stalked children.


A campaign built around the message of tobacco-free kids brought tobacco companies to their knees and ignited a national debate about smoking, resulting in new laws that banned smoking and advertising in many public places. As the result of a well-researched message campaign focused on the one smoking issue that moved voters most strongly, the tobacco advocates achieved their original goal of enacting laws to ban smoking in public places.

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

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This article was provided by AIDS Action Council.
See Also
More Info and Guides on HIV Activism