Post B: Australia’s Worst Serial Killer

During February 2019, 6 major newspapers featured front page coverage of teasers for a story uncovering ‘Australia’s worst serial killer’. This 4 week interdisciplinary campaign by the Heart Foundation, was rolled out to online news and broadcasting platforms, including the True Crime Australia website. This was then followed by the release of a video of investigator, Clive Small, telling his story of being stalked himself, calling action against this prolific killer that was still on the loose. The advertisement concluded with the text: ‘Heart disease is Australia’s number one killer, taking 51 lives a day’.

This campaign was a major success, increasing the heart foundation web site traffic by 270%, and encouraging 800,000 people to check the online heart age calculator. The campaigns reveal, was the topic of almost 2000 media stories, print, online, radio and tv, spreading further awareness. This public unrest triggered the federal government to introduce a Medicare funded health check, therefore fulfilling the Heart Foundations goal. This bottom-up approach to policy change is beneficial in providing people with a sense of power, allowing for greater attitudes towards behaviour change (Wallack 1994).

The campaigns success can be attributed to its creative approach in the way it framed its message. As a society we have become desensitised to the overwhelming release of health statistics, especially when presented to us in ad form (Elliott & Speck 2013). The campaign instead played on Australians fascination with true crime, personifying heart disease as a serial killer. This was especially contextually relevant, as it rolled out during the same time news coverage was reporting Ivan Millat’s decline in health. 

In May the campaign launched another advertisement, that featured parents telling their child, that they were dying from heart disease because they did not love them. This ad received serious backlash and was pulled within a week. While both advertisements played on shock to instigate behaviour change, this was insensitive to those who had lost people to heart disease. What separates the ads, is the role of truth in the message. Reframing heart disease as a serial killer, recontextualises the severity of its threat, while framing complacency with heart disease, as not loving your child, is simply untrue. 

When designing my intervention I will remember the integral role storytelling plays in the communication of a message (Gray 2013), remembering the power in using shock to reveal truths, while being sensitive personal experiences. 

Word count: 399


  • Gray, J. 2013, ‘The power of storytelling: using narrative in the healthcare context’, Journal of Communication in Healthcare, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 258-273.
  • Elliott, M. & Speck, P. 2013, ‘Predictors of advertising avoidance in print and broadcast media’, Journal of Advertising, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 61-76.
  • Wallack, L. 1994, ‘Media Advocacy: A strategy for empowering people and communities’, Journal of Public Health Policy, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 420-436.

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