Effective anti-smoking ads ‘scare or disgust’: study


New York : Anti-smoking ads that highlight tobacco health threats using images that scare or disgust are the most effective, says a new study. But using both fear and disgust together appears to be counter-productive.

Support TwoCircles

University of Missouri researchers found that ads focussed on either fear or disgust increased attention and memory in viewers. However, when used together, they decreased viewers’ attention and memory.

“When fear and disgust are combined in a single television ad, the ad might become too noxious for the viewer,” explained Glenn Leshner, lead author of the study.

“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,” he added in a university press release.

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.

“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 added.

As part of the study, 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 or disgust content that focused on negative graphic images or both fear and disgust content.

Findings of the study, titled ‘Scare ’em or Disgust ’em: the Effect of Graphic Health Promotion Messages’, is slated to be published in the forthcoming issue of the journal Health Communication.