‘Anti-tobacco ads should either scare or disgust viewers’

October 23rd, 2008 - 12:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 23 (IANS) Some of the anti-tobacco ads try to discourage people from smoking by scaring them with its harmful effects, according to a study. University of Missouri (UM) researchers found those ads that focused on either fear or disgust, increased attention and memory in viewers. Conversely, those that included both fear and disgust achieved the opposite effect.

“When fear and disgust are combined in a single television ad, the ad might become too noxious for the viewer,” said Glenn Leshner, co-author of the study and co-director of the Psychological Research on Information and Media Effects (PRIME) Lab in the Missouri School of Journalism.

“We noticed several ads in our collection of anti-tobacco public service announcements that contained very disturbing images, such as cholesterol being squeezed from a human artery, a diseased lung or a cancer-riddled tongue.”

Presumably, these messages are designed to scare people so that they don’t smoke. It appears that this strategy may backfire,” said Leshner.

There is limited understanding of the cognitive and emotional processes associated with the effects of advertising messages, according to Paul Bolls, co-author of the study and co-director of PRIME Lab, according to an UM press release.

Bolls said the purpose of the study was to examine key characteristics of anti-tobacco ads that influence viewers’ cognitive processes engaged during message exposure, which potentially contribute to the messages’ effectiveness.

“This study provides important insight into how young adults process anti-smoking messages and it offers practical suggestions for designing effective tobacco prevention messages,” Bolls said.

The researchers measured the physiological responses of 58 viewers while the viewers watched a series of 30-second anti-tobacco ads. The ads included fear messages that communicated health threats resulting from tobacco use (like lung cancer and heart disease) or disgust content that focused on negative graphic images (dirty insects, blood, organs, etc.) or both fear and disgust content.

The study will appear in the journal Health Communication.

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