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Fear Tactics Work in Social Marketing

Media Release

17 October 2003

Fear Tactics Work in Social Marketing

People can be frightened into changing their behaviour for the better – but they must be presented with clear options on how to go about it.

Australian behavioural research expert Rob Donovan told New Zealand’s inaugural social marketing conference today (Friday) that fear had proven to be an effective tool in influencing social behaviour in several advertising campaigns in Australia. These included anti-smoking and anti-domestic violence advertisements.

“But the advertisements must show solutions. The viewer has to see a way out of the problem, by including telephone help lines for example.

“We need to always keep in mind the unintended possible consequences of our marketing, such as the risk of affecting the mental health of individuals and communities that see the advertisements.”

Mr Donovan said there were two types of fear responses – the automatic “shock horror” response at a single event and the anxious response to the threat of a bad outcome if certain behaviour did or did not take place.

Research showed that the second was more effective than the first in social marketing. “The threat appeal stimulates us to think about what will occur if activity does or does not take place, then encourages us to take a course of action,” he said.

The two day conference, Social Marketing for Social Profit, is being held in Wellington and has been organised by the Health Sponsorship Council, the Cancer Society of New Zealand, the Land Transport Safety Authority, the New Zealand Retirement Commission and the Ministry for the Environment. It has attracted nearly 200 registrations. It was opened yesterday by State Services Minister Trevor Mallard.

The conference has discussed issues such as evaluating the outcomes of social marketing, effective marketing that does not overload the public with social change messages, the importance of quality research and social marketing to Maori. It is the first of its kind to take place in New Zealand.

Mr Donovan is the Cancer Foundation Professor of Behavioural Research and Director of the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Control at Curtin University in Perth. He is also the Adjunct Professor of Public Health and Co-director of the Health Promotion Evaluation Unit at the University of Western Australia.

For further information: Health Sponsorship Council 04 472 5777

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