Original Research

Subconscious responses to fear-appeal health warnings: An exploratory study of cigarette packaging

Christo Boshoff, Lucea Toerien
South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences | Vol 20, No 1 | a1630 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajems.v20i1.1630 | © 2017 Christo Boshoff, Lucea Toerien | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 July 2016 | Published: 28 April 2017

About the author(s)

Christo Boshoff, Department of Business Management, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Lucea Toerien, Department of Business Management, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

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Background: Tobacco smoking has serious health and financial implications for both smokers and non-smokers. A wide range of measures have been used over many years to combat this scourge. One of these measures is social marketing communication campaigns. Whether these campaigns are effective has been the subject of some debate. Some of the questions that arise are: What kind of advertising appeals (for instance, informational versus emotional) should be used? Which elements should form part of such campaigns? Some argue that pictures are more effective. Others believe that text-based messages are more effective. Regardless of how these campaigns are structured, they have very little chance of success if they are unable at least to cause arousal (activation) among the target audience. Not only does emotional arousal increase engagement, enhance information-processing and render communication memorable, it also helps to increase the mental accessibility of related knowledge.

Aim: In this exploratory study, the ability of fear-based pictures and text messages on cigarette packaging to create emotional arousal among consumers is explored.

Methods: Galvanic skin response and eye-tracking methodologies were used.

Results: The results indicate that both fear-based pictures and fear-based text messages activated arousal among consumers.

Conclusion: The extent of arousal is influenced (at least to some extent) by both gender and whether or not the viewer is a smoker.


cigarette-smoking; neuro-physiological research; galvanic skin response


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