In October 2006, The Home Office and the Department for Health launched a nationwide ‘Know Your Limits’ Campaign aimed at raising public awareness of the risks associated with ‘binge drinking’ amongst 18 to 24 years olds. A series of poster advertisements (including those presented above) were part of this campaign and attracted their audience through vivid imagery and the use of rhetorical questions.
Burnkrant and Howard (1984) suggest that in general, rhetorical questions arouse a reader’s uncertainty and motivate more intensive processing of messages than statements do. In their study a strong or weak message was presented to 160 undergraduates with either a rhetorical question or a statement as the heading. When strong arguments were presented, messages that had rhetorical questions were found to produce more favourable thoughts and more positive attitudes than statements. Similarly when weak arguments were presented, messages that had rhetorical questions provoked more unfavourable thoughts and less positive attitudes.
The rhetorical questions used in these adverts also imply an essence of danger and evoke vivid imagery in the reader. They are asking the reader to imagine themselves doing the ‘act’ that they suggest is commonly associated with binge drinking. Anderson (1983) asked participants to imagine themselves as the main character of a story that involved partaking in pro social activities (eg, blood donation, tutoring etc). Imagining performing these target behaviours produced a corresponding change in the intentions of the participant to that behaviour.
Anderson, C. A. (1983). Imagination and expectation: The effects of imagining
behavioural scripts on personal intentions. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 45, 293-305.
Burnkrant, R. E., & Howard, D. J. (1984). Effects of the use of introductory rhetorical
questions versus statements on information processing. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 47, 1218-1230.