Collection: Nasty Effects
A common approach in anti-tobacco advertising is to portray disgusting images of people who have suffered damages internally and externally due to smoking. These advertisements are meant to belie the tobacco industry's portrayal of smoking as glamorous by showing negative, visceral images of disgusting bodily harm. For example, some go so far as to show images of dismembered fingers and mutilated mouths.
One effect of showing such explicit images is that “during exposure to unpleasant/arousing pictures, individuals have been found to initially increase cognitive resources allocated to encoding.”1 This means that anti-tobacco advertisements that contain such pictures are better recalled by viewers, which also makes them cost-effective, since they do not have to continuously distributed to be effective. However, “strong fear appeals with low-efficacy messages produce the greatest levels of defensive responses,” so viewers may not react the way public health agencies expect them to once seeing these advertisements if they do not contain high-efficacy messages about quitting smoking.2
Another thing to consider when analyzing the effectiveness of using disgusting images is the target audience of the advertisements. The images used in most advertisements are examples of how prolonged smoking can have severe consequences, so adult smokers are more impacted by these images than are youth, who have just began smoking. 3 Therefore, to increase the effectiveness of these advertisements on youth, a potential idea might be to show innocent victims suffering from the disgusting effects of smoking, which has been found to be “an effective way to elicit empathy and disgust, and that disgust, not fear, motivates societal prohibitions and social activism.” 4
1. Leshner, G., Bolls, P., & Wise, K. (2011). Motivated Processing of Fear Appeal and Disgust Images in Televised Anti-Tobacco Ads. Journal of Media Psychology, 23(2), 77-89.
2. Witte K, Allen M. A meta-analysis of fear appeals: Implications for effective public health campaigns. Health Educ Behav. 2000; 27:591–615
3. Pechmann, C., & Reibling, E. (200). Anti-smoking advertising campaigns targeting youth: case studies from USA and Canada.Tobacco Control.
4. Pechmann, C., & Reibling, E. (2006, May). Antismoking Advertisements for Youths: An Independent Evaluation of Health, Counter-Industry, and Industry Approaches. American Journal of Public Health, 96(5), 906-913.