This message becomes more relevant now than before with the growing presence of the COVID 19 variants. The new variants are more transmissible; for example, the UK variant is said to be 56 percent more transmissible than the original COVID 19 virus.
What does that mean?
It means if the original one takes 20 days to double the number of us infected, this variant will do it within 10 days. Some epidemiologists predict the numbers can go up by more than 10 fold if the current lockdown restrictions are removed.
In 2018 I explored the message framing effect on measles vaccine hesitancy among the US population. In that post, I highlighted the Hendrix et al. (2014) finding that more parents were modestly persuaded to vaccinate their children when the benefits to the child were emphasized when compared to the standard CDC information. That is about the measles vaccine. And, they explored parents’ intentions to vaccinate their children.
We do not know whether the same holds true for people living in other cultures and other vaccines.
This post is about a study on the influenza vaccine and 222 patients who attended a tertiary hospital in Turkey. These researchers have explored this personal-benefit versus social-benefit dualism with regard to the perceived risk level of the people. In their field experiment, they found the intentions to get vaccinated were higher among those perceived as high-risk when the personal-benefit was emphasized. On other hand, the intentions were higher among those who perceived low-risk when social-benefits were emphasized. In other words, at least for this population further division of the target audience and customizing the message accordingly is more beneficial.
“They told me it’s out there: The Pacific Vortex. Paradise”; The “Plastic bag” anticipates his destiny through Werner Herzog’s voice.
“No one needs me here anymore, Not even my Maker”; the “Plastic bag” laments while observing the sunset on the beach. “He” is about to dive into the deep ocean heading for “paradise”: the gigantic plastic garbage dump that sits deep Pacific Ocean Vortex.
Ramin is an acclaimed Iranian-American filmmaker.
The technique of anthropomorphism
Ramin anthropomorphizes a plastic bag into a human; rather the bag thinks and feels like a human. This technique is called anthropomorphism, an excellent creative writing technique. It “transports” us into an imaginary world for a short period. After the visit, we return to the world where we lived prior to the journey with changed beliefs and attitudes. It helps to retain the message in our minds for a long time. We can find the same technique in Franz Kafka’s “metamorphosis”, Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland”, and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief”.
The long journey begins
Soon after the opening scene at the beach, Ramin takes us to a place where the plastic bag begins his long journey to the Deep Pacific ocean vortex. The starting place is the store’s cashier countertop from where his Maker, a young woman, places her bought- stuff into the bag. Besides carrying stuff to the woman’s home, the bag carries various kinds of duties for the woman from going with her to the tennis court, helping her with ice to ease her ankle pain, and even bagging her pet dog’s shit. However, it feels abandoned when the woman dumps him and ends up at a large garbage site.
From this garbage site until he sets into the deep Pacific ocean vortex, Ramin makes the bag traveling through the land, sky, forests, buildings, houses, and the ocean. Throughout this journey, the bag meets animals, fish, and even a “girlfriend” bag.
The bag voices its human feelings through Werner Herzog’s voice: love, hope, loss, frustration, and the yearning for reaching the ultimate destiny.
Intimate moments with the young woman
He feels happy for being “part of her life” and joy when he intimates with the lady’s skin to ease her ankle pain with ice.
“I made her happy and she made me happy”, the bag thinks. And, he yearns to be with her, “we would be together forever”.
Then, he feels despair when she abandons her and finds himself at a dumping site.
At the large garbage site
“Nothing could destroy me”, boasts the bag even after a large garbage truck running over it several times. Then, the wind takes him out of the site and the destiny.
Meeting his “girlfriend”
During his resumed journey, he meets his red-colored “girlfriend” plastic bag. He moves and dances gracefully with her.
You can watch the full movie here.
Ramin’s laser-beam focus on the main narrative does not deviate even for a second to bring forward the bigger picture of the plastic pollution crisis. He is strictly disciplined about it. The focus directs at the plastic bag’s goal: Re-uniting his Maker or else finding its ultimate destiny – the 100 million tons gigantic garbage dump deep inside the Pacific Ocean vortex.
Whenever we craft a message we need to have a clear idea of how we are going to evaluate the efficacy after releasing the message. The Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM) provides a useful model exactly for that.
Let first us see what it is and then how it helps us.
We need to keep in mind that this model particularly applies to fear- arousing messages.
What is EPPM?
The EPPM forces us to look at it from the message recipient’s point of view. According to the model, the message recipients process a message in two stages. In the first stage, the message recipients appraise the threat level; then they proceed into stage two: To take action. They choose one of two types of action. Those are danger control (appropriate/adaptive) and fear control (inappropriate/maladaptive).
Stage 1: Appraising the threat
First, as soon as we receive a fear-arousing message, we appraise its “perceived” threat level. Here the keyword is “perceived”. What matters most is the message recipient’s perceived threat level, not the message sender’s perceived threat level. Often, message senders who tend to be more knowledgeable than the message recipients become disappointed because the message senders think the recipients do not perceive to the level that the senders perceive. Being at a higher position in the social ladder, message framers put the blame on the message recipients.
What does the “perceived threat” refer to?
Although we employ here the fear appeal as the strategy, according to Kim Witte the threat differs from fear;
According to the, two criteria should fulfill to perceived the threat; the message recipients should perceive severity and susceptibility.
What does it mean by perceived severity?
Think of COVID 19 virus. First, the recipients assess how severe the problem is. In the first wave, our perceived severity became very much higher than now. Isn’t it? In other words, the perceived severity can vary with time.
What does it mean by perceived susceptibility?
Next, the recipients assess how much they are vulnerable in contracting the COVID 19 virus.
If the recipients perceive the problem is not severe enough and they are not vulnerable, they are very unlikely to do something about it. In contrast, if they perceive the problem is severe enough and they are susceptible, they feel they are under threat and think of doing something about it.
According to the EPPM, they switch into the next stage: Action. Here, the message recipients evaluate the actions they can resort to: Appraising the efficacy of the proposed action/s.
Stage 2: Appraising the efficacy
In this stage, they evaluate two dimensions of the proposed action/s.
First, they evaluate whether the proposed action is doable. For example, in regards to COVID 19 pandemic response, the key messages we receive are “stay at home”, “wear a face mask”, “wash hands”, and “keep the distance”.
Perceived response efficacy
This is the final element; perceived response efficacy. Here, the recipients evaluate whether the proposed actions do really work for them.
Our message satisfies all the above-mentioned four criteria, according to the EPPM, the message recipients are highly likely to engage in the recommended behavior change. Obviously, we cannot expect one message can satisfy all these criteria for all the people. That is why we first have to define the target audience and study their socio-demographic and psychographic characteristics before crafting the message.
Danger control versus fear control
Whenever our message meets the four perceptions of the target audience, they delve into “danger control”. This is what we want them to do. The experts view this as a cognitive process.
However, there are many situations that our messages do not meet all the above criteria.
What will happen if some members of the target audience perceive a higher threat level with a lower level of perception that they are not capable of engaging in the suggested action?
According to Michael Basil and Kim Witte, in such situations message recipients will resort to “fear control” methods; this is an emotion control process. Here, they will ignore the message and somehow find reasons to justify their course of inaction.
What arguments they are likely to put forward? According to Michael Basil and Kim Witte, those are;
- They may the risk is overstated unnecessarily.
- They may the threat is not that severe.
- They may, Whatever happens, may happen; we cannot do anything; this is life.
- They may this is a deliberate attempt to limit their freedom.
What we have to do in message framing is to promote message recipients to adopt danger control actions not fear control ones.
EPPM elements against control strategies
This is only an introduction to the EPPM. There is much more to it. And, researchers have addressed the limitations of the model too. For example, this model only deals with the process of dealing with fear. However, fear is not the only emotion messages invoke. They can invoke anger and frustration too.
Researchers firmly advocate the self-efficacy and response efficacy perception levels should be higher than the problem severity and susceptibility perception levels for the message recipients to resort to danger control behaviors. If the reverse takes effect, they will resort to maladaptive fear control behaviors.
I will discuss its applications in another post.
When I saw this, it reminded me of another famous advert with a similar narrative. It was aimed at increasing milk consumption among US consumers in the past: “Got Milk?”.
“Got Milk?” was one of the most famous US campaigns. Jeff Manning, the Executive Director for the California Milk Board hired an Advertising company in San Francisco to develop a campaign; “Got milk?” was the result.
The published literature about this campaign teaches us important lessons. I am attempting here to apply their strategies that may be applicable in raising vaccination rates and possibly to other campaigns too.
During that time, milk was seen as a nutritional healthy food, and advertised it echoing that sentiment. However, research showed that milk’s place was robbed by soda drinks due to soft drink companies’ aggressive advertising campaigns. These companies related soda drinks with youth lifestyle and happiness.
Instead of adopting this soda strategy, aimed at wooing new customers, the “Got milk?” campaign focused on already existing milk drinkers as the target audience. So, the campaign managers attempted to exploit the food – milk nexus; the majority of consumers drank milk with some food items such as cereals and at a specific time of the day – at breakfast.
Using deprivation as a marketing strategy
Instead of just highlighting the food – milk connection, they focused on a very specific situation that generated anxiety: an uneasy emotion. Through focus group research with milk consumers, they unearthed that consumers felt anxious whenever they tried to swallow either bread or cereals without milk. They translated this particular moment into the now-famous tagline: “Got milk?”. They finally created print adverts and television commercials highlighting this particular moment. You can watch a brief discussion between then-campaign designers: Jeff Goodby and a partner of Silverstein and Partners.
It seemed that several other campaigns that did not have any relation with the milk campaign copied this “got milk?” strategy – Got Jesus? Got beer? etc.
I like this one: “Got Polio? Me Neither” advert.
“Got milk?” campaign managers placed their ads at places where consumers make decisions for groceries: bus stops, grocery stores, in front of televisions at home, etc.
All these attempts were to make
An update: June 12 2020
In February 2020, I wrote the original blog post that appears below about koalas feared dead due to Australian wildfires. This is about a cognitive limitation of the human mind: “Collapse of compassion” or “compassion fatigue”.
I did not imagine writing an update this post with regard to human tragedy: The COVID 19 pandemic a few months later.
I thought of writing an update to it because now we are experiencing the same “compassion fatigue” with regard to 413,000 deaths of ours this time, not animals.
The original post: February 13, 2020
We know what happened in the recent wildfires in Australia; thousands of “koalas feared dead”. Can we imagine how thousands of deaths -more accurately “burnt to death” – look like?
It is not easy;
Instead, look at the above photo of a koala. It evokes strong emotions of love and affection.
On October 17, 2018, Max Fisher wrote a thought-provoking article to The NewYork Times. It was about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. It was titled “How one journalist’s death provoked a backlash that thousands dead in Yemen did not”.
It is a very interesting question.
Max sees a parallel in his question with the “infamous” saying of Joseph Stalin, a one-time Russian dictator; that was the title of this post:
Yemen has been experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. People are dying even from Cholera, a disease that does not exist in most parts of the world. Still, we give very little attention to it. But the gruesome alleged killing of one journalist held the world’s attention months.
Furthermore, Max also reminds us how the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy brought the whole world’s eyes to the Syrian tragedy.
We can find more examples to support this phenomenon from history; two famous examples are the boat of no smiles from Vietnam, and the famine in Somalia. I do not want to add any more here. There are many more. These are gruesome.
Max explains the practical application of Stalin’s “theory”; that is why reporters begin their storytelling with one victim of a flood, famine, or any other major disaster. These stories attract our attention. And, then we go into details.
“Collapse of compassion” or “compassion collapse” are the terms used to explain this phenomenon.
What is the”Collapse of Compassion”?
This is a psychological phenomenon according to which our degree of compassion begins to vanish to the extent that the number of suffering rises up.
It becomes harder for us to comprehend the suffering of large numbers; Instead, we can be compassionate with just one or two individual sufferings.
This is a paradox; it is not what we expect to happen.
I have found several other attractive phrases to describe this phenomenon: compassion fatigue, compassion apathy, compassion fade.
This is a very big problem; weigh-in this paradox against a mass scale famine, genocide, or massive climate change issue.
How people apply this knowledge in practice?
This is the most crucial part.
So, our compassion is limited. When a large number of individuals are in need, we tend to ignore them leading to inaction. That is human nature.
The answer is there; If you need people to donate, highlight index cases in need. Then, call for action reducing the amount of contribution to a few dollars. That is what exactly not-for-profit organizations are doing. You can appreciate it if you follow their tv advertisements very closely.
So, if we show just one or two koalas in need, it will be much more effective to motivate donors rather than showing thousands of koalas!
Are there other ways that we could apply the phenomenon in practice?
This is about the classic “third-person effect”; it is not for me (the first person), or you (the second person), it is for others (the third person).
Think about this real scenario:
A group of researchers showed a set of messages prepared against drink-driving to a group of 201 drivers. They asked the respondents, among many, the following two questions:
1. To what extent you yourself would be influenced by these advertisements?”
2. To what extent other drivers, in general, would be influenced by these advertisements”.
The response items ranged from 1 (not influenced at all) to 7 (extremely influenced).
The researchers showed the third-person effect in this study; in general, the respondents thought some type of messages were good for others than themselves.
This phenomenon was coined as the “Third – Person Effect” by Davison in 1983; he used his own findings and several other studies in conceptualising it. Since then, a large number of research studies appeared including several reviews with regard to a variety of fields such as mass communication, media violence, public service advertisements etc.
Have you thought about it?
This finding has a number of practical implications in our daily lives as well as when we are designing messages not only for road safety but in almost all other subject areas too. So far, research has shown that the “third-person effect” operates in our all daily activities.
According to these researchers, our current road safety messages may not be effective for men at least to an extent that we expect. However, the effect did not show the same level of influence on women when compared to men. They also found that men’s third-person effect is higher than women for negative, fear-evoking appeals whereas the opposite holds true for humorous appeals.
Can this be a questionnaire artifact? In other words, is it possible that these responses may be due to the way that we frame the question?
In 1999, Richard Perloff found the answer to this question; citing many studies, he showed that even after counterbalancing question formats and order, still, the third-person effect survived. That means the phenomenon is a very robust one. In order to support this proposition, he cited two compelling example sentences: “I myself let influenced by advertisements when I go shopping” and “Advertisements influence me when I go shopping”. Although we are more likely to accept the influence on us when we are confronted with the first sentence rather than the second, he argued the third-person effect still holds true.
In Perloff’s critical review, he further discusses another related association between the effect magnitude and the perceived social distance between the assessor and the “comparison other”; again citing studies, he showed that the effect’s magnitude increases when the perceived social distance widens.
We all love immediate gains. Health education messages should also follow this simple truth whenever possible.
How can we design such messages?
While I was searching for a study based on this reality, I stumbled upon the following qualitative study published in Cancer Nursing journal, designed and conducted by Satia et al., in 2010.
They have designed 4 messages to promote fruits and vegetable consumption among African – American teens. Those were as follows:
1. Short-term, gain-framed message: “If you eat high in fruits and vegetables, you will have more energy and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.”
2. Long-term, gain-framed message: “If you eat high in fruits and vegetables, you will have a lower risk of cancer over your lifetime.”
3. Short-term, loss-framed message: “If you do not eat high in fruits and vegetables, you will have less energy and more likely to be overweight.”
4. Long-term, loss-framed message: “If you do not eat high in fruits and vegetables, you are more likely to develop cancer over your lifetime.”
They found that 61% favoured short-term gain-framed message, while 30% favoured the long-term gain-framed message. The rest favoured the “short-term loss-framed message. None favoured the long-term loss-framed message.
[Satia JA et al., 2010. A Qualitative study to explore Prospect theory and message framing and diet and cancer prevention-related issues among African American adolescents, Cancer Nurs. 33(2): 102-109]
Message framers use the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) in everyday practice. Richard Petty and John Cacioppo developed the model and published it in 1980. I read about their paper published in 1984 through this link; this is a PDF file and freely available.
What is it for?
The ELM aims to persuade a target audience, hence its name: The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion – in short, ELM. As expected, the marketers get benefited from the model. Certainly, it is used in science and particularly in the health sector also.
What the model says;
It says that the message recipients process information via two routes: the central route and peripheral route.
The central route
When we confront a message, we sometimes are likely to elaborate its content by thinking a lot about it before shifting our attitude about the message. In this instance, we do not rely on any outside influence. This type of thinking process is called the “central route”. In order to go through this route, someone needs to be
and (2) either enjoying or having the ability of thinking.
One’s motivation level relies on perceived personal relevance and ability to think. The opportunity to think also may rely on the number of opportunities to do so and the degree of distraction.
The peripheral route
On the other hand, when we do not give much thought to the message content (low likelihood of elaboration), the process is called “peripheral route”. In this situation, we are likely to change our attitudes based on outside factors such as the attractiveness of the message, the credibility of the person who endorses it, etc.
The elaboration likelihood is considered along a continuum. Those are in high likelihood of elaboration are going through the central route, while those who are in low likelihood of elaboration are going through the peripheral route.
Does it matter?
Yes, it matters. Those who are persuaded by the central route are more determined to engage and continue in the desired behavior than those who are persuaded through the peripheral route. However, most of the time, as we are busy, we tend to change our attitudes and then take decisions via the peripheral route.