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.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dad dying from cancer

The advert uses the quote “I’m not sacred of clowns. I’m scared of my dad dying from smoking”. The quote is in white italics across a large picture of a plastic clown. At the bottom of the advert is an informative fact of how many people every week in the UK die from smoking and a number for help quitting.

The British National Health Service (NHS) created fear tactic adverts in part of their smokefree campaign. The NHS felt that using a persuasive message from a child prevents adults from avoiding the topic and could potentially motivate them to quit something. The advert makes parents consider the serious emotional impact their smoking behaviour has on their children.

This advert mainly uses the tactic of fear to create a persuasive argument but uses many other techniques also.

The adverts uses association is linking the fear a child has to clowns to another negative fear of his/her father dying as a result of smoking. Pratkanis (2007) stated how persuasion is particularly effective when one object is made similar to another object.

The advert also uses valence framing; people generally want to avoid losses. An issue that is outlined in terms of a loss (and what bigger loss is there as a parent than dying?) will produce a motivation for the person to avoid the loss. Meyerowitz and Chaiken (1987) showed that women reading a pamphlet on breast examination were more likely to do an examination later if told the negative consequences of not performing an exam rather than the positive consequences of performing an exam. So in comparison to this study, instead of promoting the positive consequences of quitting smoking they outline the negative consequences (the losses) of not quitting smoking in the advert.

The advert exhibits dependency-responsibility altercast. This method obtains compliance to a request by exhibiting the dependency of the child on their parent, making the parent a responsible agent. This dependency relationship creates an effective argument from the child to make the parents comply. A study (Pratkanis & Gilner, 2004) compared both child and expert persuaders talking about a given issue and found that children were more effective communicators than the expert on the given issue. Therefore concluding a child is a more effective communicator than an adult on a protection-themed issue (smoking is obviously a protection-themed issue as it is concerned with public health).

The advert massively plays on the use of fear. A fear appeal is created by linking an action (smoking) with a negative outcome (death). An individual has the avoidance tendency to escape this adverse emotion. Also including a number to contact for help quitting on the advert will be operative in encouraging the individual to implement that course of action. A study by Watts (1966) showed that participants that watched a fear video significantly reduced their smoking.

So even though there has been much controversy surrounding the sensitivity of the advert and whether it is an advert suitable for children, I think we can all agree it is a hard hitting advert that grabs your attention and makes you think twice about your behaviour.


Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The Science of Social Influence. NY& East Sussex: Psychology Press.

Valence framing:
Meyerowitz, B. E., & Chaiken, S. (1987). The effect of message framing on breast self-examination attitudes, intentions, and behaviour. Journal of personality and social psychology, 52(3), 500.

Dependency-responsibility altercast:
Pratkanis, A. R., & Gilner, M. D. (2004). And when shall a little child lead them? Evidence for an altercasting theory of source credibility. Current Psychology, 23,279-304.

Watts, Jean C. The role of vulnerablity in resistance to fear-arousing communications. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Byrn Mawr College, 1966.   

Leventhal, H. (1971). Fear appeals and persuasion: the differentiation of a motivational     construct. American Journal of Public Health, 61(6), 1208-1224.

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