Tuesday, 28 April 2009

SHOCK!!! -Shock Ads Don’t Shock!

You have to acknowledge the Rudd government for 2 important health initiatives related to substance abuse. First was the future PM, Kevin Rudd, who on the verge of winning the upcoming election declared his government would implement evidence based policies. This seemed like a call to finally change Howard’s non scientific, moral centric anti-drug strategies that plagued a once progressive Australia. The second important health initiative was the focus on alcohol as the prime drug of abuse amongst Australians and a promise to tackle the issue with a long term strategy taking up to 20 years to achieve.
One of the reasons why governments like fear is that is the sort of advertising they do in a political context
-Professor Noel Turnbull - Communications Expert
The Libs hated the idea of targeting alcohol over illicit drugs and looking back over their policies, it becomes obvious. The obsession of conservatives and the Liberal Party with being “Tough on Drugs” is still on display as they often attack the government for overlooking illicit drugs and focussing too much on alcohol. The government held out until this month to finally run a significant anti-drug campaign but the $18 million media blitz is only a rehash of previously released advertisements from the Howard government’s “Tough on Drugs” strategy. So much for evidence based policies that Rudd promised and to hell with reality. The campaigns against alcohol and drug abuse are again, run of the mill, scare tactics that parents, the media and governments love so much but in reality have very little effect on the target audience. It makes you wonder who the target audience really is?
We're not going to solve social problems purely and simply by regulating them out of existence
-Professor Noel Turnbull - Communications Expert
The long term strategy to change Australia’s drinking culture is a brave and noble gesture which was rightfully applauded by health and welfare workers around the world. it certainly isn’t a vote winning exercie and requires a tough, dedicated government to ride the political and social backlash. The problem is that unless the government has the guts to follow result driven research, however uncomfortable it is and ditch the short term grabs at popularity via ineffective but popular policies then it will never achieve any changes in the real world. The public need to change their attitudes voluntarily through education and facts and no amount of regulation can change that. Like the new measures to determine what binge drinking is, unless it’s realistic and conceivable for the public, it will fall on deaf ears. Like forcing clubs to shut at certain times, unless the club goers want to stop drinking, they will simply drink in the streets, attend parties or go to underground raves. Like scary, worse case scenario advertising, unless it resembles real life, it will be written off as just more preaching from the fun police. Setting in motion, hard hitting, voter friendly strategies that feel good without hard evidence and common sense will only keep the cycle of ineffective policy going around in circles.
There are alternatives available which treat people as citizens capable of changing behaviour without draconian regulation and punitive taxation
-Professor Noel Turnbull - Communications Expert
With an ample supply of research and expert studies available, it is disappointing that the main resistance to apply evidence based policies, comes from politicians. I understand the game of politics is brutal and based on popularity but this still doesn’t help society find the right approach to alcohol and drug use. The incredible influence on politicians from big business like the alcohol industry and big pharma surprises no one but continues on without a serious challenge. The religious right and agenda driven moral groups keep the media in a frenzy that ultimately influences government policy. The media themselves with dwindling regulation on ownership gives way to the likes of Rupert Murdoch to dictate public sentiment under the guise of news. I’m sure none of this is new to you but the mere fact it continues to exist as part of our so called democracy gives even more reasons not to feel confident with government policies especially on moral issues like alcohol and drugs.
Christian Kerr who authored the article below, is a great writer/journalist and often highlights the reality hovering under the public’s perception. Is he telling us something by reporting twice in the last few days about the government’s shonky attempts to tackle alcohol abuse? Maybe he’s just doing what the media is supposed to be doing ... exposing the truth. A few more like Christian Kerr in the media would be handy.
Shock Alcohol Ads Don't Work - Expert
By Christian Kerr
The Australian
April 2009

SCARE campaigns designed to tackle problems such as alcohol abuse do not work, according to a prominent communications expert who is now a director of DrinkWise Australia. Noel Turnbull, adjunct professor in the School of Applied Communications at RMIT University, says young people "think they're immortal".

"They simply don't believe the risks are as great as other people say," he said.

Mr Turnbull is a former political press secretary and top PR man who has worked on social marketing campaigns for various governments.

Today, he will use a forum of DrinkWise, an education body funded by the federal Government and the liquor industry, to push for a longer-term approach to tackling alcohol abuse.

He will warn against approaches that "generate widespread community hostility and seek to control the bulk of moderate consumers of alcohol as if they were people with significant alcohol problems".

He points to the ridicule heaped on draft guidelines the National Health and Medical Research Council issued last year, which said that more than four standard drinks a day constituted a binge.

"There are alternatives available which treat people as citizens capable of changing behaviour without draconian regulation and punitive taxation," Mr Turnbull's presentation says.

He told The Australian politicians might have been misled by their own campaign advertisements.

"One of the reasons why governments like fear is that is the sort of advertising they do in a political context," he said.

"They've demonstrated that negative advertising works when it comes to elections and assume that it also works when it comes to other forms of behavioural change, but the evidence for that is not quite so strong."

Instead, Mr Turnbull believes using social marketing to change behaviour will work.
"We're not going to solve social problems purely and simply by regulating them out of existence," he said.

"We have to actually build social capital.

"It's no good telling people this is the wrong thing to do. Long-term solutions are about building social capital and people's own capacity to change."

Mr Turnbull says governments run "tough and confronting advertising" so they can appear "tough and decisive".

But he will cite research into a Howard government campaign on youth drinking that showed young people vomiting and falling about.

"A significant response was 'that's like the sort of, like, party, like I'd like to go to'," Mr Turnbull said.

He points to photographs of drunken parties young people post on Facebook.

"They chose to display these images of themselves and their friends," he said. "If this is their choice, it is difficult to imagine that they are going to be shocked or discouraged by the scenes in the government ads."

Mr Turnbull says changing consumption is unlikely to happen overnight. "Long-term generation change is the most productive way to go," he says.

Related Articles:

Drinkers to face a budget hangover
Under 20 warned off alcohol
The Real Surprise: Only 50 Percent Thought the Ads Exaggerated


Unknown said...

MediaCurves.com conducted a study on 318 males and females who viewed several recent “shock ads” on breast and lung cancer awareness. Results found that the majority of male viewers (53%) indicated that shock ads are extremely effective, compared to 42% of females who reported that shock ads are extremely effective. The majority of male viewers (66%) reported they wanted to see more “shock ads” on the air, while less than half of female viewers (49%) wanted to see more shock ads. More in depth results can be seen at:

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Ben
I have no doubt that shock tactics work as I have seen them do so at a drink-driving course I attended. I watched as mainly young adults walked out of the course with new respect for what damage a drunk driver can do.

My article is not about the general public though. The target audience, drinkers or drug users don't relate to shock tactics that are highly unlikely to happen or are extremely exaggerated. They rarely, if at all experience the situations put before them and probably have never even heard of it happening. It's because the drug and alcohol ads that rely on shock tactics are normally myths or only happen in extreme circumstances.

Thanks for your input.