Research type 
Year of report 

Summary of findings


Mothers were rather complacent about teaching their children good respiratory and hand hygiene.  There are a number of reasons for this:

  • They don’t believe colds are that serious;
  • They believe that children need to build up their immune systems;
  • They feel they have little control over what their children do at school;
  • They feel that sneezes are spontaneous actions, so children are unlikely to use tissues in time.

Mums felt that the best they could hope for is that children will ‘cover up’ with their hands, and this was what they tried to educate their children to do.  Although some did give their children tissues, they tended not to get used.  Even if they did urge children to wash hands before meals, and after using the toilet, they did not think of this after coughing / sneezing. 

The ‘fact’ that helped to jolt them out of this complacency was the message that ‘germs survive on surfaces for hours’.  This information was important because it was new news.  It challenged the belief that germs were airborne and short lived; it explained why covering up and using a tissue helped to stop the spread of germs; and it explained the need to bin the tissue and wash hands.  If the advertising focuses on this fact, it is more likely to encourage mums to influence their children.  There is also more chance of it affecting the mothers’ behaviour as well.

“If germs are there for hours, I wouldn’t have thought that.  You think they’re gone straight away when you sneeze” (C2DE, child under 2, Birmingham)

“I’d tell the kids germs live up to 2 hours, so you’ve got to use a tissue and wash your hands”  (C2DE, child 2 – 5, Liverpool)

The ‘Baby SFX’ radio idea does focus on the idea that germs survive on surfaces, and therefore has potential to change behaviour.  However, there were a number of issues to address with this route…

  • It targets mothers with babies rather too tightly, which seems to point the finger of blame.  It may be better to broaden the relevance to children at large.
  • Potentially, it could do more to suggest that germs live for hours and are   passed on from person to person.
  • It could do with a more arresting opening, to get attention.

The ‘Ring o Roses’ idea also works well because it, potentially, engages the mothers and the children in a dialogue.  It also grabs attention at the beginning, by signalling relevance to mothers and children. 

The issues with this route were:

  • It did not convey the whole RHH routine as strongly as ‘SFX’, as the emphasis is on using tissues to cover up (rather than binning them / washing hands).
  • It lacked the ‘reason why’ provided by ‘germs live for hours’ but, if this element was added, it could work well for this audience.

The print route was found visually arresting and different.  The ‘boy’ visual worked well in terms of getting attention and signalling relevance to mothers, who were then inclined to look at the copy.  The ‘old man’ visual created strong disgust, which resulted in avoidance rather than involvement.

The ‘sneeze lite’ approach to the visual is recommended, although the research version of the ‘boy’ was a little too light.  The more dramatic ‘snowstorm’ approach seems to impair rather than help communication.

The ‘full frontal’ visual had greater potential to grab attention and intrigue the viewer than the ‘sideways sneeze’ option.  Though clearer, the sideways visual is less intriguing and involving. 

The shorter copy is recommended, as attention wanders with the longer version. 

As for the radio advertising, the press route will be strengthened by emphasising the ‘germs live for hours’ message.

The opening phrase of the copy (‘If only common sense spread so easily’) needs to be re-worked, to explain the visual and connect it more strongly to the rest of the copy.

Research objectives


The overall purpose of the research was to examine reactions of the target audience to the creative ideas against the campaign objectives and ascertain their potential to prompt the desired response.



The Department of Health (DH) was developing a communications strategy with the aim of embedding good hygiene practice before a pandemic. 

As part of this strategy, an advertising campaign was scheduled to start in November 2008, using radio, print, online and ambient media.  The primary target audiences for the advertising were new parents and mothers, who are the gatekeepers of hygiene in households and are believed to be highly receptive to messages about RHH. Qualitative research was required to guide the development of this campaign.

Quick summary


The research helped decide which creative route can help overcome mothers’ complacency in this area.  Reasons for complacency were also identified.

Audience Summary









Social Class

  • B
  • C1
  • C2




6 two hour group discussions. The sample was segmented by age of children and social class. Respondents were invited to take part by locally based qualitative recruiters who are trained to avoid bias in respondent selection.

Data collection methodology

Focus groups

Sample size


n = 48

Fieldwork dates


September 2008

Agree to publish



Research agency

Burns & Co.

COI Number