Challenging Dogma - Fall 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Anti-Smoking Commercials: Applying Brand Marketing Tools to Health Campaigns - Anon

Cigarette smoking is the highest cause of premature death in Australia that is preventable (1). Australia’s campaign against smoking, and other drug use as well, can be viewed purely as health based scare tactic. The interventions aimed at the public include grotesque pictures on the outside of cigarette boxes to posters in ladies bathrooms and billboards found all over major cities. Yet, the most notably disturbing pictures are in their commercials; varying form images of cancer of the mouth, to lung cancer, and digital images depicting how one’s body breaks down as a result of smoking. The whole campaign strategy can be summed up and explained by this government sponsored anti-smoking commercial (2) that aired in 2008.

The commercial depicts a frail lonely women standing outside of a busy building lighting up a cigarette. Her whole surroundings are depressing, with dark lighting, cars honking, and pieces of trash blowing in the wind. As she lights up the cigarette the camera follows the smoke down into the women’s lungs showing her alveoli rotting away form the tobacco smoke. The commercial ends stating every cigarette is doing you damage. Instead of this commercial evoking reaction of wanting to quite smoking it leaves the viewer completely off put and disgusted. This commercial is a key example of how public health interventions can be designed in a way that does not effectively convey the message to the public, and initiate motivation to change their behavior. With the pour application of the framing theory, advertising theory and social marketing theory, and focused around the health belief model this commercial does not leave the viewer empowered and ready to take on the challenge of quieting.

Argument 1: Images and Overall Tone of Commercial

The way in which an anti-smoking commercial is framed determines how successful it will be in motivating the viewer to quite smoking. By correctly framing the message it facilitates the interpretation by the viewer to a guided self-realization on the issue. Framing is conceptualizing what reaction the viewer needs to have to change their behavior, and then communicate the issue in the way to ignite that type of reaction. According to an article by Entmal “communication is not static, but rather a dynamic process that involves frame-building (how frames emerge) and frame-setting (the interplay between media frames and audience predispositions)” (3).

The increasing popularity of the framing concept in media has lead to the inconsistency in its correct application (4). Frames have several locations, including the communicator, the text, the receiver, and the culture of the commercial (4). The Australian anti-smoking commercial was framed in a gloomy matter, almost to show the dark unknown side of smoking. The viewer can almost sense the ominous feeling of the commercial, like death is in the air. Even before the viewer realizes it is an anti-smoking commercial, it could have easily turned into a commercial about depression medication or suicide outreach.

The commercial fails to recognize smoking isn’t something that happens in dark alleys but is an integral part of someone’s life and culture. Those who smoke don’t only find themselves lighting up when they are on busy street corners, they also smoke on sunny beautiful days in a non-depressing setting. This commercial falsely represents most smokers view on smoking. By framing smoking as a behavior only taken out in depressing situations, makes the viewer reject the commercial because they are unable to relate their smoking experience with that being portrayed in the commercial (5).

Using a middle class woman as the spokeswomen for anti-smoking is going after the wrong demographic group in Australia. In Australia, occupation status and education levels were inversely related to smoking prevalence (1). Only 18.7 % of upper white collar people smoke compare to 40.9% of blue collar workers (hill). For an effective anti-smoking campaign you have to target a demographic of people who have a high prevalence of smoking. This commercial markets to subgroup of population and is only attractive to specific viewers who could identify with communicator (6).

Further the woman in the commercial appears to be a weak frail depressed person. It gives off the sense that only working middle class lonely women will be affected by smoking. The viewer can not identify with such a spokesman, and it almost has the reverse affect that only weak people are affected by smoking, and that strong individuals will not. People naturally create cognitive categories and link those categories to stereotypic beliefs (7). In the commercial the viewer dissociates themselves from the women by labeling, stereotyping, separation, status loss, and discrimination (7).

Through conceptualizing stigma the viewer then associates women in a negative way. The viewer cerates a stigma from the commercial by first recognizing the differences between the women and themselves, and then labels women negatively to disassociate themselves form that person (7). This results in the viewer not being able to associate with the women but also labeling her in a different group than which the viewer finds themselves in. Making the women’s situation and smoking experience different from their own. The viewer creates a complete separation between themselves and the women; once the women’s status is loss she is deemed no longer a viable source of information (7).

Argument 2: Communication of Issue

The way in which the women in the commercial is framed, results in the overall rejection of the communicator. The lack of utilization of the advertising theory and social marketing theory, results in a non-exchange of knowledge. This commercial does not address the wants, attitudes, and behavior of potential “customer” (8). An effective commercial discovers the wants and needs of the target audience. By using marketing techniques in health related behavior change, it exceptionally bridges the gap between preexisting knowledge and what one can do with that knowledge. In the case of smoking people understand the health effects and understand the cost of their habit; but what is lacking is the bridge between the knowledge and what one could have without smoking.

The application social marketing in the health sector is thought of business lack of taste and self-restraint (8) The core component of social marketing theory is based around an “exchange process,”, and the second component is how people realize the gain in benefit from participating in the “exchange process.” The concept that a public health outreach campaign, such as anti-smoking commercial, has to health based, shocking, and informative reflects the misguided direction of what is effective in behavioral change. To be successful one has to sell their cause in order for the viewer to buy into the social change you are asking them to be a part of. This commercial targets that the viewers will rationally evaluate the commercial, but instead you need to attract to their core emotions (9)

When Nixon ran for president a large majority of his campaign was becoming what people wanted to see on TV. He took advantage of the marketing concepts that allowed the advertising of commodities to be so successful and applied them to his presidential campaign. His success in being elected was in part due to the public bought into the way Nixon was being sold (8). Unlike the lonely women in our anti-smoking commercial; who would want to buy into any concept being sold by a women who seemly has bigger problems than smoking. The art of selling a social cause is by making the image and an aura around someone that would make the viewer idealize them (8).

According the psychological reactance theory individuals who are aware of the intent to persuade them from an action or behavior will then be less persuaded by the influencing agent (10). There is no hidden message in this commercial, it is a pointed attack that when you smoke your alveoli are degenerating and becoming cancerous. The commercial is trying to persuade you from not smoking, and by directly pursuing the viewer with visual images it leads to further resistance to change. It highlights the positive aspects of smoking such as extended life and happiness. Also, it does not offer an alternative mindset or guidance on how to change. It singles out the viewer on their negative behavior, and does not offer an alternative motive or guidance on how to change.

Argument 3: General Outreach Approach

This anti-smoking commercial is centered on the health belief model. Asserting that if people only new the negative consequences of smoking they would make the right decision and quite (11).This model relies of the concept that people make decision based on a cost benefit analysis (11). The health belief model assumes peoples actions are reasoned; if that were the case then why anyone would smoke (11)? If the viewer already knows smoking can give you lung cancer and is a risk factor for several other serious disease the cost is very high. Yet the benefit would be “low” with the only advantage being they get to partake in a behavior.

Studies have shown people initiate smoking behaviors as early as middle school, despite anti-smoking beliefs, attitudes, knowledge and intentions (10). Therefore lack of knowledge on health risk of cigarette smoking is not the issue; the issue then becomes the motivation and willingness to quite. Viewers of the commercial are not gaining any new knowledge that will help them evaluate their behavior. By showing images of smokers lungs becoming cancerous it only makes the smoker nervous and anxious. When smokers are stressed, the often reach for a cigarette. Making a commercial that ignites fear in the viewer counterintuitive, because after seeing the commercial, the smoker may crave a cigarette (11).

Interventions that focus on educational efforts can produce a boomerang effect, as a result of psychological reactance theory (10). The heavy focus on the biological and medical implications of smoking can be viewed as an insulting attack on smokers. The commercial could portray a tone that smokers are not smart enough to know the consequences of their actions and therefore they must be shown. Instead of focusing on how smoking can kill an individual the commercial should focus on how it can affect the individual viewer in all aspects of their life.

Further, studies show that smokers over estimate the frequency of people affected by disease from smoking (11). This indicates that smokers not only understand they are at a health risk, but think smokers are at a higher risk of contracting a disease than they actually are (11). But what the commercial didn’t anticipate is that most smokers don’t believe they will become a victim of disease. They fail to recognize that the disease will affect them personally and often deem the negative health affects of smoking as something that happens to other people, people who smoke more, or have other factors that can make them more susceptible to disease. The health belief model is a failed approach because people already understand their health risks, fail to associate health risks with their own outcomes, and this approach makes them more likely to reject the idea and anxiously reach for a cigarette.

Alternative Approach:

The approach the Australian government took towards their anti-smoking campaign is flawed on several levels. Instead of trying to address and fix the issues with the commercial; it is more appropriate to review its flaws and develop a new approach that corrects those shortcomings. In developing an alternative anti-smoking commercial it is essential to identify which outreach approach is the most effective and efficient; then develop the campaign around that model ( 12).

Anti-smoking commercials that highlight the serious consequence of smoking are rated more effective than commercials focusing around education or smoking not being “cool”(12). Studies show that the most effective anti-smoking commercials are those with an emotional tone that ignite an emotional response in the viewer. The key outreach strategy then becomes create a commercial that has an appropriate emotional tone and one that becomes interpersonal. Ideally to create a commercial similar to the way brand advertising works. By crafting a commercial that can be perceived and retained by the viewer, likeable, and ultimately motivate behavior change (12).

Commercial Story Board:

The synopsis of the commercial is watching a young African American child, Jo, come of age. The commercial takes the viewer through several important stages in his life, and ends with him dying in a hospital bed. Each screen shot of the life stage is only a couple seconds and each scene ends freeze framed on Jo’s mouth, and then the next scene opens on an older Jo at his next life state. The commercial is complemented with the Kane West song “Power”. The beat and or words of the song pair up with defining moments of the commercial. There is no other sound in the commercial besides the music, although when actors in the commercial speak what they are saying can generally be read by reading their lips.

Scene 1: Opening shot with a two year old Jo running around in his living room with a cape and diaper on. He raises his plastic sword in his hand and storms his build-o-block castle he made. The scene freezes with the boy’s sword in hand raised standing in the middle of his stomped castle, mouth open and happily screaming. The word INDEPENDANT pops up on the freeze frame.

Scene 2: The scene opens focusing on Jo’s hands bouncing a basketball on the gym flour, he’s about 10 years old. The camera pans up to his face that looks determined, biting his lip. The camera pans out to see the boy is in his jersey playing in a basketball game and starts to dribble to take on an opponent player. He gets the basket and jumps with is mouth open, looking hopeful. The scene freezes, the word UN-STOPABLE comes up.

Scene 3: At age 17 Jo walks his girl friend to her front dour. They awkwardly look at each other waiting for one of them to make the first move. His girlfriend goes in and gives him his first kiss. She smiles and walks into her apartment. Jo jumps down from the stairs in front of her front door. And with a happy energetic face he mouths the word wow while gasping. The shot freezes again with his mouth open and the word LOVE comes on the screen.

Scene 4: Now a college student Jo walks home from the bars with a couple male friends. The scene opens with them walking down the sidewalk laughing and having a good time. One of the friends lights a cigarette off of the one he is currently smoking, and in a non peer pressure way hands it to Jo. Jo looks at the cigarette with hesitation, shrugs his shoulders and brings the cigarette towards his mouth. The scene freezes on his face right before he takes his first hit from the cigarette, with his mouth open. EXPEREMENTING flashes up.

Scene 5: The scene opens with Jo sweating and screaming the word push. The camera pans over to his wife, mouth puckered breathing hard. Finally the camera pans around to the new baby screaming. The words LIFE pan across the screen.

Scene 6: Jo now in his late 30’s runs down the stairs of his work, almost in a panic. He gets to the door that leads outside with his cigarette already in his mouth. The second he steps outside in the freezing snow he is shivering while trying to light his cigarette. As he lights the cigarette and blows the smoke out while looking desperately cold the words DEPENDANT flash across the screen.

Scene 7: The scene opens with a shot of Jo’s face and you can tell he is running, and having a hard time at that (not coughing though). The camera pans out to see him running behind his son holding the back seat of his bicycle. Jo lets go of the seat and watches his son wobbly peddle and ride his bike all by himself. The sense ends with Jo bearing an endearing smile and the word PRIDE comes across the screen.

Scene 8: Now in his young forties Jo lays in a hospital bead attached to oxygen. The camera focuses in on his mouth breathing slowly. His wife and six year old son are standing next to him, sadly watching him till the end. The camera pans back to Jo as he takes his last breath. The wife and the son both lower their heads while quietly crying. The camera then focuses on the little boy standing next to the bed gripping a plastic sword. The commercial freeze frames as the little boy cries looking down at his sword, he takes a big breath with the words GONE come across the top.

Proposal 1: Images and Overall Tone

The proposed alternative commercial is famed in an attractive way. The message is met with a fast upbeat song that is in sync with the different scenes of the commercial. Music can connect and emphases selective visual events and alter the viewers perception (13). The use of shifting from different life frames keeps the viewer attentive and following the story line. The pictorial layout and cultural background of communicator allow the message to be framed in a light to help the viewer interpret their message (13). Each segmented story has a smooth transition from leaving one scene with a shot of Jo’s mouth and entering the next scene with his face. The predictability of the transition makes the commercial flow smoothly through connecting major life events. The overall energy in the commercial connects with the emotional edge, and gives a commercial a more humanistic quality (13). The commercial is shot in an approach the viewers are use to seeing that they can associate in a positive manner.

Most off all the issue is framed in a particular way that attracts our attention; by using a communicator the viewers can relate to while they present an issue (4). Viewers can personally relate to Jo by remembering what it was like to be a little kid and be free. From playing sports as a kid and feeling un-stoppable and further falling in love for the first time Jo is an example of the common viewer. Each viewer would be able to relate to Jo in one of his life aspects. Once the viewer feels emotionally attached to Jo, the commercial shifts into watching his life be taken from him from a impulsive life decision such as smoking. The commercial doesn’t give the viewer time to realize Jo has lunch cancer, indicating that lung cancer can happen to those who are active and happy in life.

The main emphasis of changing the profile of the main character is to get across the point that good people smoke cigarettes and they are also victims to disease. With a positively framed commercial it can generate positive emotions towards Jo and his life, and negative empowering emotions when his life is taken away (14).

The text that appears during the freeze frame acts as an anchor to images to cue the viewers interpreting direction (13). Ranging from independent, unstoppable, independent, then dependant, to life, and pride, and eventually gone. Draw a meaning from the text that is consistent with the image (13). The flip flop between positive and negative scenes allows the viewer to stay connected with a positive Jo, and not interpret the commercial as one day he started smoking and his life went down hill. Instead focusing on that life can still go on while you are smoking, but it just will make your life end that much sooner.

With the combination of both the music and text anchors the viewer can contextual the commercial into meaningful cross-modal gestalts, on which they can further individually interpret (13). Using several modalities with the same intention lead the viewer to a common pointed conclusion that if smoking can get to Jo, it can get to you too.

Proposal 2: Communication of Issue

The use of social marketing in this anti-smoking commercial applies commercial marketing techniques to promote behavior change (6). Using social marketing evokes ad induced feelings that can influence the viewer’s attitude on the ad, as well as emotional and cognitive response toward the issue presented (14). The cross modality of techniques used in this commercial creates a connection other commercials that the viewer may be found of (13). The viewer can then be penetrated on several perceptual and emotional levels. The negative emotions the commercial evokes can have a positive effect on attitude and behavior (13). Also negative emotions are more likely to help the viewer receive the commercial as more effective and are able to recall the commercial with greater detail (112). The negative emotions generated from watching someone you can identify with die, can induce an emotional motivated response. Ultimately helping the viewer quite smoking or further enforce the idea that one should never start.

By using marking theory the commercial can reinforce incentives of modifying ones behavior. When using the marketing theory to advertise commodities there is an immediate incentive or gratification of taking part of the movement the commercial implies. Such as when you watch a Nike commercial one can go out and immediately buy a Nike produce. But in health related outreach the commercial must focus on benefits the viewer values enough to hold on too for long term goals. (15) The commercial addresses this issue by showing that values such as pride and love can be taken away, and are values worth preserving. A second implication of the social marketing theory recognizes the viewer pays for their behavior modification with intangible cost such as discomfort, cultural change, and struggling with self identity (16). The payoff must be a big enough incentive to compensate for emotional cost. (15)

Proposal 3: General Outreach Approach

The sequences of events in the commercial coincide with the four aspects of the reactance theory; freedom, threat to freedom, reactance, and restoration of freedom. (17). This commercial ignites the feeling that a perceived freedom is threatened by the smoking behavior, which results in a motivated pressure toward reestablishing the threatened freedom (10). By showing sequences of Jo’s life and the freedom and power he once had only to be taken away by a habit, indicates to the viewer that smoking takes away your control of your life. This induces reactance because freedom is the eternal need for independence and perceptions of external control (10). Factors that can affect reactance in the viewers are: argument quality, severity of the consequences associated with the message topic, and magnitude of the request made in the message, and perceived threat (17)

The commercial address the above arguments of reactance by making the viewer perceive they are in control of the perceived threat that has serious consequences. The reactance the viewer will suffer will make them evaluate the relationship between the degree of a threat of that behavior and the importance of the behavior (4). By minimizing the persuasive element of most anti-smoking commercials the viewer is more influenced by the commercial and is allowed the space come to their own conclusion about smoking based on their freedom of choice (10).

For reactance to occur individuals must be aware that their freedom exists and that they have the right and control to pursue those freedoms. Therefore you can’t directly attack the behavior of smoking but attack what smoking is taking away (16).When Jo delivers a message that may threaten the viewers freedom, the message can create a positive force to comply with messenger and a stronger force to react (18). The reactance can further be induced by showing an individual exercise a freedom prior to a threat and watch the threat take away that freedom (18). The commercial applies this approach by showing Jo enjoying life before the perceived threat of smoking is introduced.

Further by building up a background and familiarity with Jo and his values, can not only induce reactance but also increase compliance of the viewer (18). When a relationship is established viewers are more likely to agree with the communicator regardless of the threat (18). Interpersonal relationship can help the viewer over come their threat, in the sense that the threat becomes more personal and real (17). The hardest part of developing an anti-smoking commercial is making the cause hit the viewer’s emotions and feel real. By developing an alternative commercial featuring Jo’s life story, viewers across the nation will be able to relate to him, thanks to the reactance theory, social marketing theory, and the framing of the commercial.


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