This advert was created to encourage people to check for signs of bowel cancer and go to their doctors if they see any of the signs indicated in the advert. The advert depicts patients in a “just plain folks” fashion, portraying themselves as you and me in an attempt to convince people that anyone can get cancer and that you need to follow their message and get it checked up. However, the advert is quite subtle, mentions few symptoms and has an almost relaxing tone meaning it does not have enough impact and is quickly forgotten.
Instead, the advert could perhaps have used more shocking tactics, to convince people of the importance of checking up, and to get them to remember the advert and remember to check for the signs of bowel cancer. Dahl, Frankenberger and Manchanda (2003) showed that shock advertising can be an effective form of persuasion. Participants in this study paid more attention to and showed better recall of adverts using the shock technique compared to those using fear and information techniques. The researchers measured students’ attention, recall and recognition of adverts of HIV/AIDS prevention using shock, fear and information appeals. Participants were taken to a room which featured the target poster (HIV/AIDS poster) and four decoy posters (scenery poster, Safewalk poster, Pepsi poster and student crossing poster) and after being left waiting (with an opportunity to look at the posters) for 90 seconds, participants were asked to complete a pricing survey (a decoy activity). Participants were then required to recall the posters by writing down the names and themes of ones they could remember. Participants were asked which posters attracted their attention the most and why. Participants then indicated which of a larger set of posters they recognised as having seen in the room and which of five statements they recognised as having been on the target poster. After this participants indicated how they felt after viewing the target advert (shocked, scared, educated).
As can be seen in table 2, when indicating which poster caught their attention the most, a larger percentage of participants in the shock condition selected the target advert (84.4%) compared to the fear (40.6%) and information (46.9%) conditions. 96.9% of participants in the shock condition recalled the target advert later compared to 78.1% of participants in each of the fear and information conditions. 100% of participants in the shock condition later recognised the target advert compared to 81.3% of participants in each of the fear and information conditions. This study shows that the shock appeal produced more attention, recall and recognition of the advert than did the fear and information appeals.
In a second study, the researchers ran the same experiment but added a control condition which did not feature the target poster. After completing the decoy task, participants were told that on the table were some leftover items, which the participants were free to take. Items included AIDS related information as well as other public health pamphlets focusing on cancer and alcohol consumption, for example. As can be seen in table 3, participants in the shock (47.1%) and fear (52.9%) conditions were more likely to pick up AIDS related items than those in information (23.5%) and control (20.6%) conditions. This study shows that the shock and fear appeals were more likely to lead to behavioural change in accordance with the related message.
This research shows that the shock technique to advertising does in fact attract attention and make an advert more memorable through its violation of social norms. This means that the cancer awareness advert could include a more shocking appeal, perhaps highlighting the consequences of not checking up and going to your doctor, or the more severe symptoms of cancer. Normally adverts try to reassure people and play it down so that people don’t get scared, however perhaps violating this norm and showing the symptoms would shock people into remembering the advert and being more likely to follow the recommendation to check for signs of bowel cancer.
Dahl, D. W., Frankenberger, K. D., & Manchanda, R. V. (2003). Does it pay to shock? Reactions to shocking and nonshocking advertising content among university students. Journal of advertising research, 43(03), 268-280.