communicators face the task of using mass media to educate the internal audience
on how to live a more health-conscious lifestyle focused on preventing disease
and illness. To do this, public
affairs practitioners use – among other things –Armed Forces Radio and
Television (AFRTS) public service announcements (PSAs).
These PSAs, sometimes referred to as spots, substitute for traditional
commercials and are a primary channel for disseminating information, especially
at overseas locations. Limited
budgets for health care now and in the future demand that these preventive
health messages be constructed in the most effective and efficient manner.
For example, the National Defense Authorization Act (2000) appropriated billions
of dollars to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to spend on health care
programs in fiscal year 2001. As the DoD implements various new entitlements as part of the
Act, the health care budget demands are likely to balloon.
President Bill Clinton, upon signing the Act, expressed concern “that
the congress fails to deal fully with the high, long-term cost” (Clinton,
2000) of one of the key components of the Act, less restrictive medical
benefits for retired military people.
Because of the potential long-term financial burden on the military health care
system, it is necessary for the Department of Defense to adopt preventive
medicine strategies to keep servicemembers healthy.
While tobacco use has dropped significantly in the last two decades, 30
percent of the current force still smokes cigarettes.
The Pentagon would like to see this number decrease to fewer than 12
percent by 2010. The DoD spends
$930 million per year on healthcare for smoking-related illnesses and lost
productivity (AFRTS, 2000).
In addition to smoking, the DoD is focusing on two other costly health
risks: alcohol abuse and accidental injuries.
purpose of this study is to examine the use of fear appeal messages in
military-sponsored radio health campaigns.
Specifically, this paper reports the findings of a content analysis of
existing PSAs in terms of the severity, susceptibility, efficacy, and
self-efficacy themes in the fear messages.
First, an overview of the military’s use of PSAs will be presented in
order to establish the extent of their use.
Second, a description of the theoretical basis of the content analysis is
presented, and finally, the methodology, results, and discussion of the study
will be presented.
in the Military
Military leaders have an abundance of command information that must be
communicated directly to servicemembers and their families in an effective
manner. As mentioned, AFRTS PSAs
are a primary channel to accomplish this with audiences stationed abroad.
AFRTS broadcasts a variety of command information spots in place of
advertisement commercials normally aired by commercial radio and television
stations. These spots provide
information on a variety of topics, such as safety, health care, and family
services. The terminology and
definitions for what the authors of this paper considered PSAs varied somewhat
when different reference sources were reviewed.
In general, the Radio and Television Production Office (RTPO) divides spot
announcements into two categories: PSAs and contract spots.
“PSAs” are developed by agencies typically for non-profit
organizations catering to or providing a service for the general public.
However, “contract spots” are exclusively designed for the AFRTS by
civilian contractors, for the sole purpose of delivering Department of Defense
messages to a joint-service audience worldwide.
Together, PSAs and contract spots encompass 42 general subject areas and
more than 200 topics. Regardless of
how they are developed, the RTPO is ultimately responsible for approving and
authorizing spots for worldwide distribution over military radio and television
networks (AFRTS, 1999).
Approximately 400 new contract spots and 300 PSAs are added to the RTPO
inventory annually. Old spots are
routinely removed from the inventory as new spots are added, leaving an average
inventory of approximately 4,000 radio spots and 4,000 television spots in
circulation at any given time (AFRTS, 1999).
Due to the inconsequential differences of terms and definitions, for the
sake of consistency and to avoid confusion, the term PSA will be used for all
spots used by AFRTS throughout this paper.
Appeals and The EPPM
Fear appeals. Fear appeals, when employed correctly, are useful in health
behavior change (Witte & Allen, 2000).
Fear appeals attempt to motivate individuals to perform certain
recommended behaviors by scaring people into action (Morman,
2000). PSAs and campaigns using
threats have been proven to elicit fear, a powerful motivator in persuading an
individual to change an attitude, belief, or behavior (Witte,
1998; Clarke, 1998; Morman, 2000). In
light of these findings, it seems a study of fear appeals in military PSAs is in
order. Therefore, the current study
will attempt to answer the following research question:
How prevalent is the use of fear appeals in Defense Department PSAs?
While a considerable amount of research has concluded that fear appeals motivate
behavior change, some advertisers and practitioners argue that fear appeals can
actually backfire (Witte & Allen, 2000).
That is, some practitioners insist that the use of fear appeals may
actually push the audience to adopt maladaptive responses, such as denial or
avoidance. Therefore, it is necessary to not only examine military PSAs
in terms of the number of spots containing fear appeals, but also the types of
fear appeals evident in current military spots.
When military health fear appeals are employed, do they contain elements
of severity, susceptibility, response efficacy, and self-efficacy?