Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Influence of the Self-Regulatory Focus on the Effectiveness of Stop-Smoking Campaigns for Young Smokers

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Influence of the Self-Regulatory Focus on the Effectiveness of Stop-Smoking Campaigns for Young Smokers

Article excerpt

People's self-regulatory focus may determine the effectiveness of stop-smoking campaigns. An experiment with 226 young smokers investigated the persuasiveness of different emotional appeals for different self-regulatory foci. A congruency effect emerges for attitude toward the advertisement and behavioral intentions: Young smokers with a promotion focus are more persuaded by sadness-joy than fear-relief campaigns, and the opposite is true for those with a prevention focus. As predicted by the regulatory relevancy principle, ad involvement mediates this effect.


Although antismoking public health efforts mostly focus on convincing adolescents not to start smoking, the habit remains highly prevalent among young people. For example, in Belgium, a national health survey showed that 25% of the respondents between 15 and 24 years of age smoked, 19% said they were daily smokers and 5% considered themselves heavy smokers (i.e., more than twenty cigarettes a day). On average, these young consumers smoked thirteen cigarettes a day (Het Wetenschappelijk Instituut Volksgezondheid 2008). Smoking cessation programs aimed at young smokers are still a good option though, because the less long people smoke, the less addicted they become, which makes it more easy to quit successfully (World Health Organization 2008). But to discourage smoking, policymakers' attempts to create effective campaigns remain challenging especially due to the probability of defensive processing by consumers when they receive what they perceive to be personally threatening information (Liberman and Chaiken 1992; Wolburg 2006).

A common antismoking campaign relies on fear-relief appeals, which encompass a threat-action format. That is, the messages focus first on a threat stating a vulnerability to severe health risks (e.g., lung cancer) and then offer a solution in the form of a feasible behavior (e.g., don't smoke) (e.g., see, Hale and Dillard 1995; Lowrey, Sabbane, and Chebat 2009; Rogers 1983), with many researchers often presuming that this content could evoke a fear response that alone would engender changes in behavior (see further discussion in Boster and Mongeau 1984; Rotfeld 1988, 2000). However, few studies on antismoking messages specifically test the effectiveness of different types of message appeals or the moderating effect of individual differences (e.g., Pechmann et al. 2003; Smith and Stutts 2006).

We examine the importance of self-regulatory locus theory (Higgins 1997) for health and fear appeal research. The self-regulatory focus is linked to specific emotional vulnerabilities (Higgins, Shah, and Friedman 1997) and has a significant influence on how people process persuasive messages (Pham and Higgins 2005). Accordingly, we investigate the effectiveness of two different messages, both with a threat-action format, that focus on different types of emotional health outcomes or frames. Specifically, we evaluate the persuasiveness of a fear-relief vs. a sadness-joy appeal in stop-smoking campaigns targeted at young smokers with varying self-regulatory loci (Higgins 1997). We also study the underlying mechanism of the potential effects of emotion congruency on persuasion.


Self-Regulatory Focus Theory

Higgins (1997) states that some people tend to approach pleasure by pursuing positive outcomes, whereas others tend to approach pleasure by avoiding negative outcomes. The former represents a promotion focus, and the latter corresponds with a prevention focus. In the case of a promotion focus, people's goals relate to advancement and accomplishment, whereas if they have a prevention focus, they likely pursue goals related to security and protection. The strategies to achieve these goals also depend on the primary focus. A promotion focus implies the use of approach strategies, whereas a prevention focus generally indicates the use of avoidance strategies. …

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