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Scare Tactics in Health Campaigns Essay

Social health campaigns supported by the government are often oriented to developing definite frightening images and forming certain models and behaviours to influence the people’s attitude to the problematic question or issue. Thus, scare tactics are often used to develop people’s negative attitude to unhealthy habits and behaviours in order to promote well-being, health, and fitness. The majority of social health campaigns are oriented toward young people and adolescents because they can be affected by the messages more significantly. The question is in the effectiveness of using scare tactics in this case, and it is important to focus on the emotional reaction of adolescents to the advertisements containing the frightening messages (Roskos-Ewoldsen, 2004).

Today, the Australian population is at risk of spreading melanoma cases influenced by the popularity of tanning among the public. Such social health campaigns as Dark Side of Tanning promoted by the Cancer Institute NSW depend on scare tactics and discuss the youth as the target audience. The aim of the essay is to examine the effectiveness of the Dark Side of Tanning campaign, paying attention to the use of scare tactics to conclude about the impact on adolescents and their well-being. Although the use of scare tactics is the controversial question in relation to the effects on adolescents, the Dark Side of Tanning campaign is effective because of combining the tactic with providing comprehensive information on the problem.

Scare tactics are traditionally used in health campaigns against the use of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. However, the impact of these advertisements and messages can be different depending not only on the general demographic features but also on the age of recipients. Scare tactics can be defined as the promotion techniques which manipulate the people’s feeling of fear and evoke definite negative emotions associated with the message, idea, or image demonstrated. Thus, scare tactics are based on using the promotional approaches connected with the issues of psychology (Beiner & Taylor, 2002).

Those advertisements containing emotional appeals are more attractive for the audience, and they receive more reaction. If the advertisements include positive messages, the positive reaction of the public is expected. However, it is also expected that negative emotions associated with the scaring advertisements can influence the people’s attitude to negative habits and activities which can be harmful for their health (Dickinson & Holmes, 2008). That is why, developing such health campaigns as Dark Side of Tanning, the authorities can receive both the positive and negative effects.

The Dark Side of Tanning campaign was developed to inform the young Australians about the real risks of melanoma and about the severity of the disease which is often ignored as well as the connection of the disease with tanning. Using the 30 second video commercials, the developers of the campaign tried to break the stereotype that tanned skin is healthier with references to the images of celebrities or other advertisements (Dark Side of Tanning, 2010).

Thus, the misconception associated with the effects of tanning on health was resolved with the help of the advertisements which demonstrated the process of melanoma development with the visualizing techniques. Having selected young people as the models for the advertisements, the authors of the campaign determined the target audience of the videos clearly. From this point, the Australian youth was expected to be influenced by the advertisements because the scare tactics were combined with demonstrating the everyday aspects of the young people’s life.

The Australian adolescents prefer to enjoy the sun baths. Furthermore, young people do not feel comfortable when they are frightened with some information (Lewis, 2007; Ruiter, Abraham, & Kok, 2001). From this perspective, the effectiveness of the Dark Side of Tanning campaign could be discussed only with references to the social consequences and health outcomes. However, following the findings and statistics on the problem of developing melanoma in Australia studied by the Cancer Institute NSW, it is possible to state that the Dark Side of Tanning campaign is rather effective to motivate adolescents to avoid tanning because of risks of melanoma. The information is supported with results of the survey conducted after the first wave of the campaign in 2009-2010 (Cancer Institute NSW, 2010). The facts which allow speaking about the positive results of the campaign are the decrease in the cancer rates among young people and changes in the attitude to the problem and awareness of the potential negative effects (Dark Side of Tanning, 2010).

Thus, to assess the effectiveness of the strategy used in the Dark Side of Tanning campaign, it is important to refer to the quantitative data on changes in the cancer rates and buying behaviours of customers in relation to the means of sun protection. The positive changes in the young people’s behaviours are observed, and this fact supports the idea that direct scare tactics can be rather successful to be used to affect the adolescents’ behaviours because the youth’s emotional reaction to such advertisements is stronger in comparison with the reaction of adults who are more criticizing regarding the messages presented in different types of advertisements (Witte & Allen, 2009).

However, there is the other point of view in relation to the effectiveness of scare tactics to influence the adolescents’ behaviours. It is often stated in the scholar literature that the use of a threatening message can provoke the unexpected reaction of adolescents who are inclined to build the psychological barriers to avoid the uncomfortable information (Stephenson & Witte, 1998). The information about the risks of tanning can be discussed as such a message because young people often prefer to spend much time outdoors without the protection of specific means to prevent tanning.

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that scare tactics are too influential and can provoke the opposite reaction of the audience to the promoted messages, these tactics used in combination with the accurate information about the problem can evoke young people’s strong negative emotions toward the discussed issue. These emotions can become real driving forces to form the appropriate healthy behaviours (Prevention First, 2008). This process can be observed with references to the Dark Side of Tanning campaign because the adolescents understood the risks of tanning and reacted to the advertisements in an expected manner.

Although scare tactics can be discussed as rather controversial techniques to stimulate and motivate young people to stop the undesired behaviours, these approaches evoke adolescents’ strong emotions which can be considered as the influential factors to choose the new life path and give up negative habits such as tanning. The Dark Side of Tanning campaign became successful because it contributed to informing adolescents about the risks of tanning and melanoma and because of calling them to action.


Beiner, L., & Taylor, T. (2002).The continuing importance of emotion in tobacco control media campaigns: a response to Hastings and MacFadyen. Tobacco Control, 11(1), 75-77.

Cancer Institute NSW. (2010). Dark Side of Tanning: Melanoma awareness campaign 2009–2010. Australia: NSW Government.

Dark Side of Tanning. (2010). Web.

Dickinson, S., & Holmes, M. (2008). Understanding the emotional and coping responses of adolescent individuals exposed to threat appeals. International Journal of Advertising, 27(2), 251-278.

Lewis, I. (2007). Promoting public health messages: Should we move beyond fear-evoking appeals in road safety? Qualitative Health Research, 17(1), 61-74.

Prevention First. (2008). Ineffectiveness of fear appeals in youth alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) prevention. Springfield, IL: Prevention First.

Roskos-Ewoldsen, D. (2004). Fear appeal messages affect accessibility of attitudes toward the threat and adaptive behaviors. Communication Monographs, 71(1), 49-69.

Ruiter, R., Abraham, C., & Kok, G. (2001). Scary warnings and rational precautions: a review of the psychology of fear appeals. Psychology and Health, 16(6), 613-630.

Stephenson, M., & Witte, K. (1998). Fear, threat, and perceptions of efficacy from frightening skin cancer messages. Public Health Reviews, 26(2), 147-174.

Witte, K., & Allen, M. (2009). A meta-analysis of fear appeals: implications for effective public health campaigns. Health Education and Behaviour, 27(5), 591-615.

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1. P1ledr1ver. "Scare Tactics in Health Campaigns." IvyPanda (blog), May 23, 2020.


P1ledr1ver. "Scare Tactics in Health Campaigns." IvyPanda (blog), May 23, 2020.


P1ledr1ver. 2020. "Scare Tactics in Health Campaigns." IvyPanda (blog), May 23, 2020.


P1ledr1ver. (2020) 'Scare Tactics in Health Campaigns'. IvyPanda, 23 May.

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