Within ten days of its publication, this advert hit over five million views on YouTube and stimulated over twenty thousand global comments about the hazards of smoking.
But what makes this advert so poignant?
I believe the success of this advert lies in the induction of emotional tactics to drive home an important message, along with the use of children to create a belief system with which adults wish to act in consistency with. We’ll delve deeper into how these factors power the social influence of this anti-smoking advert and look closer into how it makes people think and act in accordance.
There is no denying the emotional significance that this advert has. The use of children in a specifically adult targeted market allows the audience to immediately label themselves as part of an ‘anti-smoking’ stance (regardless of whether they do or do not smoke) – adults know that smoking is wrong and bad for human health from credible sources of their own authority (Bickman, 1974), and this is further strengthened by an adults obligation to act in authority to a child and to almost ‘teach them the message’. This ultimately involves tact altercasting.
Further evidence to support this comes from work by Pratkanis and Gliner (2004) who had a child argue in favour for nuclear disarmament. Traditional theories of source credibility (Hovland et al, 1953; Petty and Cacioppo, 1986) would predict that the expert in the field (in this advert, the adult), should always be more effective than the child in terms of holding the correct belief. They found that the child was effective in arguing for nuclear disarmament as the child places the message recipient in the role of ‘protector’ and thus gains an advantage when arguing for protection-themed messages, such as smoking.
The adult has both the desire (in the interests of the child from an authoritative point of view) and the ability (from credible sources of authoritative knowledge) to analyse the situation carefully and act in compliance and influence a specific behaviour (Chaiken & Stangor, 1987).
This action of compliance stems from the adult’s initial commitment in taking a role of responsibility. Similar work by Pratkanis and Gliner (2004) describes dependency-responsibility altercasting, which involves placing the audience in the role of the responsible adult. Social pressure and individual social proof mean that the audience will want to be consistent with the commitment they have chosen to make, in this case denying the child a lighter. As the advert goes on to explain, individuals impacted directly by the advert went on to throw away their cigarette. This commitment made to themselves is strengthened by individual self-concept – the adults don’t want to be seen as those who would support child smoking, and by following through the action of this commitment, they are more likely to comply.
Ultimately this advert works by inducing a state of authority and responsibility in the adult and by creating a sense of commitment in this responsibility they wish to act consistently with.
Bickman, L. (1974). The social power of a uniform, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 4, 47-61.
Chaiken, S., & Stangor, C. (1987). Attitudes and Attitude Change. In M. R. Rozenzweig & L. W. Porter (Eds.), Annual Review of Psychology (Vol. 38, 575-630). Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews.
Hovland, C. I., Janis, I. L., & Kelly, H. H. (1953). Communication and Persuasion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral routes to attitude change. New York: Springer-Verlag.Pratkanis, A. R., & Gliner, M. D. (2004). And when shall a little child lead then? Evidence for an altercasting theory of source credibility. Current Psychology, 23, 279-304.