The Relationship of Perceived Beer Ad and PSA Quality to High School Students' Alcohol-Related Beliefs and Behaviors

By Pinkleton, Bruce E.; Austin, Erica Weintraub et al. | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Relationship of Perceived Beer Ad and PSA Quality to High School Students' Alcohol-Related Beliefs and Behaviors


Pinkleton, Bruce E., Austin, Erica Weintraub, Fujioka, Yuki, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


Research has shown that adolescence is a time of experimentation, a developmentally normal activity that can put a teen in danger of engaging in activities such as date rape and alcohol-impaired driving (Baumrind, 1985; Kumpfer, 1986; Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1984). According to the literature on media effects and health campaigns, effective prevention messages for this age group need to be carefully targeted, relying on multiple voices, strategies and executions (Kelly & Edwards, 1998; McKenna, Gutierrez, & McCall, 2000; McKenna & Williams, 1993; Nowak & Siska, 1995; Slater, 1995).

A variety of research has shown that persuasive messages such as those in alcohol advertising succeed by their use of well-targeted social cues that include attractiveness, similarity, and social rewards (Schooler, Basil, & Altman, 1996), and features such as colors, music, action, and humor (Aitken, Eadie, Leathar, McNeill, & Scott, 1988). Analyses of comparable pro-social advertisements intended to help curb alcohol abuse, meanwhile, indicate that target audiences find these messages unimpressive and even boring (Grube, 1993). This puts pro-social messages at a significant disadvantage when competing against well-funded, well-executed advertising campaigns.

Recent research concerning young adults' perceptions of alcohol advertising and pro-social advertisements indicates that participants who reported a higher frequency of alcohol use also reported higher levels of desirability, identification, expectancies, and perceived effectiveness of alcohol ads (Austin, Pinkleton, & Fujioka, 1999). These same participants also reported lower levels of perceived effectiveness of PSAs, as well as lower levels of skepticism toward both advertising and PSAs. Overall, young adults rated alcohol advertisements more positively on affectively based criteria (enjoyment and visual appeal) and rated pro-social advertisements more positively on logic-based criteria (realism and honesty). The purpose of the current study is to investigate these findings further using a different sample of alcohol advertisements and PSAs, and a younger, developmentally critical age group: high school students.

Adolescent Decision Making

While mediated portrayals can serve as an important source of influence and socialization, a variety of issues appear to hinder the effectiveness of pro-social advertisements. Research indicates that they often fail to attract the attention of targeted audiences (Grube, 1993). According to foundational models of persuasion, such as McGuire's "domino" model (1989) and the "AIDA" (awareness-interest-desire-action) model of advertising, persuasive attempts must attract and hold viewer attention to have any chance of success. Unfortunate[y, research has shown that when PSAs do attract attention they often bore their target audiences and are quickly forgotten (Grube, 1993; Grube & Wallack, 1994) or even backfire (McKenna & Williams, 1993). Prevention messages that adolescents perceive as over-reactions, for example, can have a boomerang effect (Kumpfer, 1986; Tobler, 1986; Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1984).

Design and frequency advantages of alcohol advertising are likely to be magnified when dire pro-social messages compete against alcohol advertising that uses a variety of proven strategies and production techniques emphasizing positive affect (Aitken, Leathar et al., 1988; Monahan, 1995; Schooler et al., 1996) to attract attention and increase message appeal. According to Stewart and Furse's (1986) analysis of over 1,000 commercials along with using more than 150 criteria, a maximum of 15% of the variance in recall, comprehension, and persuasion was attributable to advertising content characteristics. They highlighted a number of devices that heightened attention, including suspense, surprise, auditory memory devices, and initial message impact.

A dearth of information exists regarding specific characteristics necessary to achieve optimal production quality other than frequent calls for pretesting in campaign design.

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