The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Tips from Former Smoker’s campaign, which featured raw graphic images in a national paid media initiative to reduce tobacco use, has made a big splash since hitting the air waves in 2012. A new study published on Monday in the Lancet indicates that these ads may have prompted more than 100,000 Americans to give up smoking for good.
These findings were a bit surprising because the literature has suggested that fear-based approaches typically are not effective in eliciting behavior change. In a New York Times article, CDC Director Dr. Frieden attributes the effectiveness of the campaign to the fact that they aren’t using ‘death’ or lung cancer as the motivator, but rather focusing on how the remainder of a smoker’s life may be very unpleasant—so a more relatable or believable consequence. In discussing this with colleagues, we wondered whether the maturity of the anti-smoking effort is helpful in eliciting behavior change in this case. Could it be that because the issue is more and more in-grained in culture, that ONLY fear based approaches can break through and motivate change? Or is it that those for whom these ads were effective were at a certain ‘stage of change’ that allowed the fear-based message to be an effective motivator in prompting them to finally consider changing their behavior?
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below on these promising results for a creative approach that many of us had reservations about.