We’ve all seen advertisements that depict the ugly consequences of alcohol abuse — a smashed-up car, a drunk making a fool of himself, the chalk outline of a pedestrian on the pavement.
Those anti-drinking ads, according to a new study, can actually trigger a defensive coping mechanism that permits people to mentally distance themselves from the serious consequences of drinking too much. And that causes them to drink even more.
“Advertisements are capable of bringing forth feelings so unpleasant that we’re compelled to eliminate them by whatever means possible,” said Adam Duhachek, an Indiana University marketing professor and co-author of the study. ”This motivation is sufficiently strong to convince us we’re immune to certain risks.”
The effect isn’t limited to anti-alcohol ads, Mr. Duhachek says. Ads that use shame or guilt to curb smoking or unprotected sex can also backfire.
Mr. Duhachek and Nidhi Agrawal, of Northwestern University, interviewed more than 1,200 undergraduate students for the study, ”Emotional Compatibility and the Effectiveness of Anti-Drinking Messages: A Defensive Processing Perspective on Shame and Guilt” which will appear in the Journal of Marketing Research. —Don Troop