My Topics

25 April 2013

Stimulating Healthy Eating? Threat More Effective Than Fun

Keywords: food, fruit, health, Western Europe, eating behavior, experiment, food intake, kids, marketing, persuasive tactics, social marketing, television,

Health organizations do their utmost to decrease the childhood obesity by developing school programs, health games, social media campaigns etc. Typically these campaigns stimulate children’s eating of healthy food, by implementing fantasy, action, and fun elements to appeal to children. Interestingly, a study in International Journal of Advertising shows that threat appeals are far more effective in increasing children’s healthy food consumption.  

Take aways

  • Healthy food commercials that use threat appeals (showing a negative outcome that will occur when not performing the advocated behavior) are more successful in making children eat healthy than commercials that use typical appeals, such as fun and enjoyment. 
  • The reason is that threat appeals elicit negative emotions among children, which seem to be a strong motivator of eating healthy food. 
  • For social marketers, it’s wise to look at possibilities to implement threat appeals in their campaigns. 

Study information

  • The question?

    How successful are threat appeals in TV commercials in stimulating children’s eating of healthy food?

  • Who?

    126 8- to 12-year olds of two primary schools (48% aged 7-9, 52% aged 10-12; 52% were boys)

  • Where?

    France, Europe

  • How?

    Two TV commercials were created for this study. One commercial showed exclusion of an obese child by his peers which ended when he or she consumed fruits and vegetables (threat appeal commercial). The other commercial showed children enjoying fruits and vegetables accompanied by health messages (typical commercial). After exposure, children’s emotional responses to the commercials (e.g., amusement, joy, fear or anger) were measured. To test the effect of the commercial on children’s eating behavior, children were presented strawberries and toffees and were told that they were allowed to eat as much as they liked. Afterwards, the amount of strawberries eaten per child was counted. Finally, the researchers asked the children what went through their mind while watching the commercial in order to measure their level of thinking about the commercial. 

Facts and findings

  • Children who saw the commercial showing an obese child being excluded because of not eating fruits and vegetables (threat appeal) ate more strawberries than children who saw the typical commercial that showed children enjoying fruits and vegetables. 
  • Children experienced more negative emotions while viewing the threat appeal commercial, which made them eat more strawberries. 
  • However, when children were asked to verbalize what they had been thinking while viewing the commercial, no such effect was found. 
  • This indicates that threat appeals persuade children to eat more healthy by playing into their emotions, but once children rationalize these emotions, the effect will diminish.
  • Critical note: The results might not be representative of other fruits and vegetables, because only strawberries were studied.