It’s almost 2015, and yet social marketers are still using shock tactics from the 1980s.
The latest offender is Public Health England, who have just released a truly disgusting campaign that shows a man smoking a cigarette made of rotting flesh.
The press release calls it “a powerful new campaign to highlight how smoking damages the body and causes a slow and steady decline in a process similar to rotting” and claims that previous campaigns “have helped smoking rates in England fall to an all time low this year of 18.4%.”It’s almost 2015, and yet social marketers are still using shock tactics from the 1980s. Click To Tweet
Behaviour change is much more complicated than that. What these shock campaigns do is to stigmatize a certain behaviour. But smoking has already been stigmatized by banishing it from enclosed public places (the most effective cessation policy, in my opinion).
Smokers in most western countries are now down to a hard core of addicts who already know their habit is considered disgusting by many peers. They already feel judged, and to exaggerate the consequences of their actions like this is more likely to trigger defensive processing than to motivate them to seek help. And when that happens, advertising can actually harden their resolve to continue the stigmatized behaviour.
Smoking, and alcohol and street drug abuse (including drunk and drugged driving) are not simple choices people make every day. They involve chemical addiction, habituation, and sometimes underlying mental health issues — none of which is addressed by a shock campaign of this nature. Instead, it reinforces the judgement of the majority that smoking is irresponsible and gross. Perhaps that might lead to some social pressure on smokers to quit. But for the few holdouts I know, the problem isn’t a lack of awareness or even shame.
I’m a lifetime non-smoker (and a childhood victim of parental secondhand smoke) but quite frankly I expect better from a government health authority than to “preach to the choir” with an ad that is unlikely to help, and which could possibly hurt, vulnerable people.
Public Health England
Public Health England