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Fear appeals in anti-smoking advertising: How important is self-efficacy?

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Fear appeals are frequently used in anti-smoking advertising. The evidence on the effectiveness of fear appeals is mixed, and in some studies strong fear appeals have been found to reinforce the undesirable behaviour. Individual self-efficacy may play a role in moderating the effects of fear appeals. In advertising contexts where the intention was to encourage socially desirable behaviours, it has been shown that greater self-efficacy is associated with a more positive response to fear appeals. Similarly, in such contexts, the perceived ethicality of a fear-appeal advertisement appears to be positively related to self-efficacy. The purpose of this article is to examine the relationship between self-efficacy, perceived ethicality, and the impact of advertising on behavioural intentions in a context where the aim is to discourage undesirable behaviour, namely anti-smoking advertising. Questionnaire data were gathered from 434 respondents in London, England. Respondents with higher reported self-efficacy were found to have more favourable views of the ethicality of fear-appeal advertising, more positive attitudes towards the advertising, and stronger intentions to quit smoking. It is recommended that when using fear appeals in advertising to discourage undesirable behaviour, advertisers should incorporate messages designed to enhance self-efficacy.
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Keywords: fear appeals; perceived ethicality; self-efficacy; social marketing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Middlesex University, UK 2: University of Hertfordshire, UK

Publication date: 2012-10-01

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