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Role of regulation orientation on framing antismoking ads

Institution: University of California, Irvine
Investigator(s): Guangzhi Zhao, B.A., M.A.
Award Cycle: 2003 (Cycle 12) Grant #: 12DT-0128 Award: $60,000
Subject Area: Public Health, Public Policy, and Economics
Award Type: Dissertation Awards

Initial Award Abstract
Since the passage of Proposition 99, California has been at the forefront of efforts to curb cigarette smoking through paid antismoking advertising, spending tens of millions of dollars on such advertising annually. California’s efforts have been widely copied. The number of U.S. states that use paid antismoking advertising has increased from one in 1986 to more than 21 in 2002. A prime target of these efforts has been youth, since most smokers start when they are youth. However, evidence of the efficacy of antismoking ads is limited and conflicting.

Antismoking ads differ in how the they are framed, i.e., the perspective or way in which the messages are presented to the target audience. Some antismoking ads highlight the benefits of not smoking while others depict the vanishing of those benefits because of smoking. In contrast, some antismoking ads highlight the harms or costs of smoking while others depict the disappearing of those harms or costs because of quitting or staying away from smoking. A great deal of research has shown that such message frames can significantly impact the effectiveness of advertising messages. Practitioners working on antismoking advertising generally do not seem to be aware of the persuasion differences that might be caused by different message frames. There has been a dearth of research on the framing of antismoking advertising. The increasing number of antismoking ads on the air and the different message frames being used warrant a systematic examination of framing effects to provide guidelines for developing more effective ads.

The overall goal of this research is to examine the impact of message framing on the effectiveness of antismoking ads targeted at youths. We would distinguish message frames along both an outcome focus dimension (benefits vs. costs) and an outcome valence dimension (positive vs. negative) and seek to compare the relative effectiveness of four frames in antismoking ads, namely, a benefit-positive, benefit-negative, cost-positive, and cost-negative frame. Many antismoking ads use a cost-negative frame, which focuses attention on the diseases, social rejections, and other undesirable outcomes associated with smoking. Based on our review of the literature, we believe that it may be useful to complement such cost-negative framed ads with benefit-positive framed antismoking ads, that is, ads discussing how nonsmokers feel healthy, fit, and happy. The cost-negative framed ads may appeal to one type of person who is motivated by self protection, and the benefit-positive framed ads to another type of person who is aspirationally motivated. These predictions stem from the literatures on message framing, regulatory focus theory, the feature-positive effect, and affect and persuasion. These hypotheses would be tested in two controlled, randomized trial experiments using 1,000 high school students as subjects.