Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Social Marketing and Distracted Driving Behaviors among Young Adults: The Effectiveness of Fear Appeals

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Social Marketing and Distracted Driving Behaviors among Young Adults: The Effectiveness of Fear Appeals

Article excerpt


Social marketing has long been used by government and nonprofit organizations to influence the behaviors of the general public. Advertising appeals used in social marketing have included rational/informational and emotional/fear appeals. In particular, fear appeals have been used to discourage various behaviors including drug use, drinking and driving, unsafe sexual practices, and unsafe/distracted driving. While the fear appeals literature is lengthy, questions remain about the effectiveness of fear messages.

With young adults, the ability of fear appeals to change intentions and behavior is particularly questionable. There have been several research studies which indicate that young adults recognize when fear appeal PSAs are "trying to scare us into not taking drugs or not smoking" but find the message irrelevant to them personally (Cohn, 1998; Hastings and MacFadyen, 2002; Hastings, et al., 2004) or doubt the consequences would happen to them (Kempf and Harmon, 2006). In Great Britain, during the 1990s, there were a number of research projects completed to help develop HIV/AIDS campaigns. In research conducted with Scottish teenagers, it was found that they recognized the advertising was intended to frighten "people in general" or "others," but they did not identify with it. The teenagers felt that shock approaches would work for others but not for "me" (Hastings, et al., 1990). Furthermore, with the prevalence of graphic and violent images in video games, movies, and even newscasts, it is perhaps even more uncertain today whether people are affected by fear messages. This may be particularly true for appeals targeted at young adults because today's youth have had much greater exposure than previous generations to graphic images and other fear messages.

This paper examines a current issue in society: discouraging young adults from engaging in distracted driving behaviors. The focus of the paper is on the effectiveness of fear appeals in changing young adults' beliefs about distracted driving behaviors and their intentions to drive while distracted. We also consider the role that distracted driving laws might play in reducing distracted driving.


Social Marketing

The beginning of social marketing is credited to Kotler and Levy (1969) and Kotler and Zaltman (1971). Social marketing concepts are used to encourage the public to behave in socially desirable ways (e.g., wearing seat belts, not drinking and driving, not smoking, and not driving while distracted). Governmental organizations, particularly the U.S. federal government, are prominent users of social marketing. Examples of social marketing efforts by governmental entities include the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "5-a-Day" program and a number of advertising campaigns by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see examples at The idea behind social marketing is to link the socially desired behavior to something that is of value to the individual, thus encouraging the individual to behave in the desired manner.

Social marketing efforts can appeal to a person's intellect (e.g., through informational or rational appeals) or to a person's emotions (e.g., through fear messages). However, Terblanche-Smit & Terblanche (2010) noted that informational and rational appeals are not effective with many social problems and, consequently, advertising practitioners often rely on emotional appeals to the public. Dillard and Peck (2000) found that effectiveness of emotional appeal PSAs was influenced by (1) fluctuating attitudes, (2) changes in affective responses, and (3) cognitive reactions for both positive and negative appeals. While several studies have examined the effectiveness of negative versus positive emotional appeals (Wheatley and Oshikawa, 1970; Robberson and Rogers, 1988; Block and Keller, 1995; Frazer et al. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.