PHILADELPHIA — Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania last week reported that an area of the brain that initiates behavioral changes had greater activation in smokers who watched anti-smoking ads with strong arguments versus those with weaker ones, and irrespective of such flashy elements as bright and rapidly changing scenes, loud sounds and unexpected scenario twists.
“We investigated the two major dimensions of any piece of media, content and format, which are both important here,” said Daniel Langleben, a psychiatrist in the Center for Studies of Addiction at Penn Medicine. “If you give someone an unconvincing ad, it doesn’t matter what format you do on top of that. You can make it sensational. But in terms of effectiveness, content is more important. You’re better off adding in more sophisticated editing and other special effects only if it is persuasive.”
Even ads riddled with attention-grabbing tactics, the research suggests, are not effective at reducing tobacco intake unless their arguments are strong. However, ads with flashy editing and strong arguments, for example, produced better recognition.
“This sets the stage for science-based evaluation and design of persuasive public health advertising,” Langleben said. “An ad is only as strong as its central argument, which matters more than its audiovisual presentation. Future work should consider supplementing focus groups with more technology-heavy assessments, such as brain responses to these ads, in advance of even putting the ad together in its entirety.”
This is the first time research has shown an association between cognition and brain activity in response to content and format in televised ads and behavior, the researchers noted.
Those smokers also had significantly less nicotine metabolites in their urine when tested a month after viewing those ads, the team reported in a new study published online April 23 in the Journal of Neuroscience.