Do anti-smoking ads trigger cravings?

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A new study reveals that the messages in anti-smoking campaigns may actually cause the urge to smoke – not prevent it.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that images of others smoking can distract the viewer from the point of a advertisement, causing the person to filter out the audio messages and hone in on pleasurable feelings associated with cigarettes.

"Scenes portraying smoking objects or behaviors can be helpful by making anti-smoking PSAs more relevant and engaging the target audience," the study's authors wrote. "However, inclusion of such images can distract viewers from processing audio and non-cue visuals, which are often the most important content audiences need to take away."

How strong is the message?

The key to success in an anti-smoking campaign, the researchers found, is the strength of the message. Advertisements with weak messages tend to cause more urges to smoke, while campaigns with strong messages can indeed deliver the intended effect.

A PSA released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, went on record as one of the most powerful anti-smoking ads ever, depicting a former smoker who had completed a tracheostomy.

"Such PSAs have shown to be effective in influencing the target audience’s awareness, knowledge and beliefs relating to smoking behavior, which in turn increase anti-smoking intention and behavior change," the authors wrote.

Advertisements in which visual cues aren't strong enough, they noted, will hinder the viewer's ability to "encode and remember anti-smoking arguments." So while funny or clever ads might elicit a laugh, if they aren't associated with a strong emotional response, the message is forgotten.

Findings of the study are published in Media Psychology.

Source: Taylor Francis Online

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