The best anti-sugar ads go for parents’ feelings

A new study suggests that emotional appeals may be more promising strategies for health-related messages directed at parents. (Credit: pierina/Flickr)

Not all public service announcements (PSAs) are equally effective at getting parents to say they’ll cut their kids’ sugar intake.

Getting children to cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks has been the goal of anti-obesity PSAs in cities across the United States. But to achieve that, the PSAs use very different strategies—some aim for humor, some use scare tactics, and some appeal to parents’ nurturing instincts.

A new study takes an experimental approach to identify the effectiveness of specific persuasive techniques used in the PSAs.

Researchers found the PSAs that were perceived as making a stronger argument for reducing sugary beverages and those that produced greater feelings of hope and empowerment made parents more likely to say they intended to cut back on their children’s intake of sugary drinks.

[More soda, fewer veggies for kids in the summer]

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania report the findings in American Behavioral Scientist. The public service ads targeted sugary beverages including non-diet soda, sweetened tea, and sports, energy, and fruit drinks.

The study, involving a national sample of 807 parents with children ages 3 to 17, finds persuasive techniques that used fear or nurturance were more significantly related to an ad’s perceived argument strength. Those emotional appeals may be more promising strategies for health-related messages directed at parents, the researchers say.

“Study after study shows that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is associated with weight gain in children,” says Amy Jordan, lead author of the research and a distinguished research fellow of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). “There are now a plethora of campaigns encouraging healthier beverage consumption, and research like this helps to identify which strategies have the greatest likelihood of resonating with parents.”

[A bit of soda won’t hurt an active teen]

Amy Bleakley, a senior research scientist at APPC and a coauthor of the study, says, “It’s important to have research-based, evidence-driven ads. You want to know before you create the ads which strategies are effective for your audience.”

This study follows one published earlier this year in which teens were shown the same PSAs. It found that the PSAs based on fear—which warned about the health consequences of too much sugar, including obesity, diabetes, and amputations—had the greatest effect on the teens’ intention to cut back on sugary drinks. It appeared in the Journal of Health Communication.

Source: University of Pennsylvania