A new study claims that advertising campaigns that warn against alcohol abuse can actually spur increase in drinking among target audiences.
The research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business is forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing Research.
Boffins in this first-of-its-kind study showed that the ads triggered an innate coping mechanism that enables viewers to distance themselves from the serious consequences of reckless drinking.
"The public health and marketing communities expend considerable effort and capital on these campaigns but have long suspected they were less effective than hoped," said Adam Duhachek, a marketing professor and co-author of the study. "But the situation is worse than wasted money or effort. These ads ultimately may do more harm than good because they have the potential to spur more of the behavior they're trying to prevent."
Duhachek's research specifically explores anti-drinking ads that link to the many possible adverse results of alcohol abuse, such as blackouts and car accidents, while eliciting feelings of shame and guilt. Findings show such messages are too difficult to process among viewers already experiencing these emotions, for example, those who already have alcohol-related transgressions.
To cope, they adopt a defensive mindset that allows them to underestimate their susceptibility to the consequences highlighted in the ads; that is, that the consequences happen only to "other people." The result is they engage in greater amounts of irresponsible drinking, according to respondents.
"Advertisements are capable of bringing forth feelings so unpleasant that we're compelled to eliminate them by whatever means possible," said Duhachek. "This motivation is sufficiently strong to convince us we're immune to certain risks."