Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Australian anti-smoking advert, New York, 2009. Extreme Consequence and Extreme Situation

In the ad the little boy is shown standing alone in a train station while separated from his mother. When he loses sight of his mother, his look of puzzlement turns into abject fear as tears roll down his face. A voice-over then says, “This is how your child feels after losing you for a minute. Just imagine if they lost you for life.” This caused quite a bit of controversy as the child was separated from his real life mother yet the producers assure us that he only felt anxiety for a few seconds and there were child protection officers on site the entire time.

This advert fits into the consequences template of Goldberg’s (1999) schema of templates that highlight the implications of complying or not with what the advertisement is saying - in particular the extreme consequences template, owing to its shocking and emotional nature. The advert highlights a possible consequence of not giving up smoking. It specifically targets parents, which is evident in that the focus of the consequence is on them and their child. This has been purposely done owing to the majority of people who quit smoking are in their 30’s; around the age people start to have children.

Additionally, this advertisement fits into the extreme situation template of Goldberg’s (1999) schema of templates, as it creates a visual image of a very extreme situation- one that is known as every parent’s ‘worst nightmare’. It combines the thought of losing your child in a large group of people with that of leaving them forever, and forces the parent to imagine their child feeling so distressed for the rest of their life. The voice-over reinforces this by firmly placing the responsibility on the parents’ heads in the hope that they will want to prevent this from ever happening by simply stopping smoking- which this ad presumes is morally the right and easier choice.

Although it is undeniably emotional, the ad may be less effective for younger smokers as they are not as likely to be at the stage in their life where they see dying or having children as a reality. Therefore, the advert has low perceived susceptibility to young smokers and is easy for them to deny that what happens in the advertisement will happen to them, thus they are likely to disregard the message and continue smoking.

Goldenberg, J., Mazursky, D., & Solomon, S. (1999). The fundamental templates of quality ads. Marketing science, 18, pp.333-351

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