Sugar, smoke and shock: a rhetorical study of the New York City health department’s “Pouring on the Pounds” and “Quit Smoking Today” public health advertisements
In 2009 the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released two Public Service Advertisements regarding health initiatives entitled ‘Pouring on the Pounds’ and ‘Quit Smoking Today’ (New York Times, 2009). Both campaigns were documented by news media as “controversial” and “graphic” in nature, even “shocking” (New York Times, 2009, p. 2; New York Daily News, 2010, p. 1). An expert in advertising techniques, Dr. Steven Dahl contends that shock methods of advertising are comprised of three components; information, fear and surprise (Dahl 2003). The framework of this study is set first by analyzing the campaigns as shock according to Dahl’s components, then using a triangulated system of data analysis to assess the efficacy of applying the shock framework to these campaigns. Data analysis involves evaluating the visual components of the campaigns as shock and assessing the reactions of media and consumers to these government endorsed public service announcements. Textual Analysis (Hart & Daughton, 2005) of the campaign posters, which was deductively framed by Althusser’s (1971) Subject Positioning Theory and Dahl’s (2003) shock components revealed numerous condensations, tensions and ideological values represented in the posters. A Thematic Analysis (Boyatzis, 1998) of news articles and consumer commentary revealed twenty-five themes across the campaigns. The results support that Dahl’s shock components were strongly imbedded in the ‘Quit Smoking Today’ advertisements which displayed high levels of information, fear and surprise across all three data sets. The ‘Pouring on the Pounds’ campaign showed only minimal ratings of fear, while levels of information and surprise were high in the analyzed data sets. Conclusively both campaigns may be labeled as shocking and controversial but the minimal use of fear appeals in the ‘Pouring on the Pounds’ campaign illuminates possibilities for the expansion of Dahl’s shock advertising framework.
Thesis (M.A.)--Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Elliot School of Communication.