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Carrot stick anyone?

Jane Priest, Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

Just like previous years, 2013 has launched with a flurry of advertisements offering products and services to help the British public stick to our New Year’s resolutions. From stopping smoking to losing weight and doing more exercise, this is the usual time for best intentions. But when it comes to changing behaviour, do people respond better to a carrot or stick approach?

One ad that has caught my attention is for Weightwatchers. Gregg Wallace, host of reality TV programme Masterchef showcases the brand’s new online tools and mobile apps which are designed to help people practically manage their diets. The advert is encouraging and aspirational, with a triumphant Gregg announcing, “I’ve never felt this well and fit in all my adult life. If I can do it anyone can!”

The Department for Health is also campaigning for healthy eating. Their TV ad takes a more shocking approach, illustrating the alarming amount of fat and sugar in popular foods. The ad is part of a wider campaign involving a healthy meals app and other promotions, and the support of some well-known food brands.

Meanwhile, a government anti-smoking advertisement has received a flood of complaints for being too graphic and distressing. It is now facing an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Marketers have long used emotion in advertising messages, but fear appeals are often controversial. There has been much research into the use of fear appeals and it seems there is no hard and fast rule for what works best. Factors such as the target audience, level of fear aroused and solutions offered can all influence effectiveness (see Consumer Behaviour course).

What’s your view on the use of fear in advertising, and do you have any examples? Do you think people are right to complain about the anti-smoking advert?