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Fear Appeal Poster Essay

The theory of protection motivation implies that fear can persuade individuals. Rogers and Mewborn (1976) noted that there are three important factors in every fear rousing campaign – “the magnitude of noxiousness of a depicted event; the conditional probability that the event will occur provided no adaptive activity is performed; and the effectiveness of the a coping response that might avert the noxious event.” (Rogers & Mewborn, 1976, p.55)

As such, fear appeal messages will only be effective is the perceived threat is serious and that it is very likely to occur among the target audience who will not take the recommended action. However, the message must also express the efficacy of the coping response according to (1) how well the recommended action can avert the threat; and (2) how well can the target audience perceive themselves as capable of performing the recommended action.

In the poster, the phrase “Smoking KILLS…” shows the magnitude of the threat. To a certain extent, the threat posed in thoroughly serious as it results in the maximum threat to a smoker’s life – DEATH. This is further emphasized through the statistics shown in the poster: “Smoking kills more than four million people every year” and “Each cigarette shortens a smoker’s life by ELEVEN minutes”.

As for the efficacy of the coping response, the statement “SAVE YOUR LIFE” implies that a smoker can prevent the death caused by smoking if he would “STOP SMOKING NOW” clearly reflects the efficacy of the recommended behavior. This efficacy is further magnified by the statement “You can beat the bad habit” as it reinforces the idea that the target audience is capable of getting rid of their nicotine addiction.


In the multiplicative model that was proposed by Block and Keller (1998), “No protection motivation would be aroused if the value of any of the component is zero”. Thus, if one of the components discussed by Rogers and Mewborn equates to zero, then the overall efficacy of the protection motivation message becomes zero. In the case of the poster however, all of the three components – from the perceived threats to the perceived response efficacy – were proven to exist. (Cismaru, M., 2006)

Incorporating the Extended Parallel Process Model in the assessment of the fear appeal message (Witte, 1998), the following formulas must be used:

Total perceived threat = Perceived severity (Is this a serious health risk?) + Perceived susceptibility (Can this happen to me?) and Total perceived efficacy = Response efficacy (Is the recommended action really going to avert the danger?) + Self efficacy (Am I capable of taking the recommended action?)

Furthermore, if the “Total Perceived Efficacy” is HIGHER than “Total Perceived Threat”, then the target audience is more likely to adopt the recommended action.

Following this EPPM, it can be noted that the level of fear that the poster instills among the target audiences is high since the perceived threat is death (The most serious health risk) and the perceived susceptibility applies to every smoker (“Each cigarette shortens a smoker’s life by eleven minutes.”).

However, the total perceived efficacy is higher than the threat because the response efficacy demonstrates the smoker’s ability to neutralize the serious threat. (“Save Your Life” versus “Smoking Kills”). In addition to that, this perceived response efficacy is magnified by the self efficacy expressed in the statement “You can beat the bad habit”.

As claimed by Witte in his EPPM theory, the recommender behavior of the poster will be adapted by the target audience simply because the perceived threat is high but the perceived efficacy is higher. (Witte, 1998)

Block, L.G. and Keller, P.A. (1998). “Beyond protection motivation: an integrative theory of health appeals”. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 28(17): 1585-1609.

Cismaru, M. (2006). “Using Protection Motivation Theory to Increase the Persuasiveness of Public Service Communications”. Published Feb 2006 by the “The Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy” of the University of Regina. (Retrieved 23 April 2009 from http://www.uregina.ca/sipp/documents/pdf/PPP40.pdf)

Rogers, R. W., & Mewborn, C. R. (1976). “Fear appeals and attitude change: Effects of a threat’s noxiousness, probability of occurrence, and the efficacy of coping responses”. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 34(1), 54-61.

Petrie, Gavin (n.d.). “Smoking – health risks”. Published in the NetDoctor Website. (Retrieved 23 Apr 2009 from http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/health_advice/facts/smokehealth.htm)

Witte, K. (1998). “Fear as Motivator, Fear as Inhibitor: Using the Extended Parallel rocess Model to Explain Fear Appeal Successes and Failures.” Published in P. A. Andersen & L. K. Guerrero (Eds.) Handbook of Communication and Emotion: Research, Theory, Applications, and Contexts. Academic Press.

___________ (n.d.) “Smoking: Factsheet”. Published in the Stop Smoking Updates Website. (Retrieved 23 April 2009 from http://www.stop-smoking-updates.com/quitsmoking/smoking-factsheet/startling-statistics/smoking-statistics-the-facts-behind-the-smoke.htm)

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