Friday blog rescue: Pharma advertising and the ethics of fear

From a student writing in our J 202 blog, Mass Communication Practices:

Have you seen this ad? A young woman follows a mysterious stream of glitter up an elaborate staircase. She is mesmerized by a dazzling perfume bottle that should be filled with something wonderfully alluring. Instead, as a cloud of mist clears, we realize that the bottle is emblazoned with the chilling words CERVICAL CANCER. The announcer apologizes, then explains that disguising the message as a perfume ad was the best way to draw viewers’ attention to a disease they need to know more about.Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Or is there?

via Subtle Cervical Cancer Ads Raise Questions – Barbara Kantrowitz –

One of the sources accuses the advertiser of using fear to manipulate people into demanding the vaccine. Fear is a powerful weapon. Is it an ethical one? Where is the line between making people aware of a drug that can prevent deadly cancers and scaring them into getting vaccinated? Can you think of an ad campaign that used a fear appeal? Did it work on you? Did it work on others? When is scaring people justified?

Lots of people are trying to figure out whether ad campaigns can help change public behavior and stop us from texting while driving. AT&T is trying a non-fear-based social media campaign. Recently, a billboard went up on the Beltline in Madison, for the national Speak Up Or Else campaign against reckless driving. Here’s a shot from another city. The campaign Web site has TV spots. Are these using fear or humor or both? Are they effective? What social marketing tools can actually change our behavior?