Home > Uncategorized > I Fear Little Success for New Graphic Warning Labels…

I Fear Little Success for New Graphic Warning Labels…

A mild example of one of the graphic warning labels to be used starting in 2012.

I wanted to touch upon something that Rob brought up in class the other night and that is how our perceptions of fear and morality influence our behavior. “Threat” is an interesting word, because for many people what one person considers a threat may not be one for another. Using examples from class, I don’t perceive sharks as a threat, but for many people in class this was the case. According to these schools of thought and the lessons learned in class, in which we learned that human behavior is to monitor and react to threats, I’m not going to alter my behavior of swimming in the ocean at night because I do not perceive sharks as a threat, while the other students in class may. And this makes sense- if you perceive something as a threat to you, you alter behavior to avoid that threat, thus marketers can influence consumer behavior by tapping into these fears.
However, a new debate has come up over the recent months that tries to use this line of reasoning unsuccessfully, I believe. Many states have passed laws allowing graphic images to be placed on cigarette packaging and Massachusetts has similarly passed legislation allowing this type of marketing. Now, I must make the distinction that this marketing is designed to influence consumer behavior so that consumers DON’T buy the product, unlike traditional commercial marketing that wants consumers to purchase their product. The graphic images are designed to instill fear into the consumer who is purchasing a pack of cigarettes. The consumer is then supposed to be shocked and turned off from smoking by these images and in return alter their behavior to not purchase the offending product (i.e. cigarettes). Keeping in mind class discussions, the consumer is supposed to react to the threat of, let’s say, gum disease and lung cancer and stop smoking. Seems logical …in theory.
The problem with the marketers who are placing these graphic images onto the packs of cigarettes is that modern society does not perceive these scenarios (e.g. gum disease, lung cancer, etc) as threats…at least not now. Using our current environment as an example, a large population of Emerson students smoke and if you were to walk outside and ask any 20 random people what the outcomes of smoking long term were, I guarantee the majority of them will be able to tell you the major risk factors of smoking. And I bet this is the case for many people all across the country, because this is the modern world and we have significant studies and examples of the outcomes…we aren’t living in the era of Mad Men anymore. So if everyone knows the threats associated with smoking then why don’t people stop? Well, it’s because it is a threat, but people do not perceive it as a threat right now. The Extended Parallel Process (aka the “Fear Appeal” theory) relies heavily on the notions of severity and susceptibility. These two cognitive appraisals make up the “Threat Appraisal” which claims that people are simultaneously evaluating how likely this threat is to happen AND if it were to happen, how bad would it be? When it comes to smoking, there is a high severity (i.e. people know that lung cancer is bad) however, the susceptibility is low at this current point in time (i.e. many college students simply do not see themselves at risk for contracting lung cancer from smoking at this time). In order for the fear appeal model to work, both severity and susceptibility must be high; in this example, only severity is high and thus the fear appeal does not work here.
So when it comes to the new marketing campaign to reduce smoking through the use of graphic images, my personal opinion is it won’t be very successful. The “elements in [the] environment [have] already been defined”– people know what will result from smoking- and there is no “unknown” thus there is no present threat and the cigarette smoker is not going to react and alter behavior. Maybe they’ll capture the attention of young, first time smokers and this in time may reduce the number of people who smoke, but presently, I’m just not convinced that this type of fear appeal marketing is going to change the behavior of long-term smokers.

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