Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Business


Faculty of Business and Public Management

First Supervisor

Dr Nadine Henley


This qualitative study into the effective use of fear arousal in social marketing advertising, focused on exploring gender differences in smokers' attitudes towards threats in anti-smoking messages in the 40 to 50 year old age group. This age group of smokers has received relatively little attention in the fear arousal literature to date, presumably because their 'hard core' attitudes are perceived as difficult to change by social marketing and medical practitioners. The key purpose of this study was to explore the attitudinal responses of male and female smokers in the 40 to 50 year old age group to anti-smoking messages and in particular to those using death and non-death threats. Unexpected findings from a previous study (Henley 1997) were the first to indicate that significant gender differences occurred in this age group to anti-smoking messages. Henley's (1997) study focused on death versus non-death threats in social marketing messages in two age groups of smokers: 16 to 25 and 40 to 50 year aids. Response to the death threat, 'Quit smoking or you'll die of emphysema' was compared to the response of the non-death threat, 'Quit smoking or you'll be disabled by emphysema', in producing change in attitude, motivation and intention to adopt the recommended behaviour. The appropriateness of these threat messages was considered in relation to male and female smokers in two age groups, 16-25 years and 40-50 years. Henley (1997) found that significant differences occurred between older male and female smokers' responses to death and non-death threats in social marketing messages, and that in general, 40-50 year old males responded more to death threats and 40-50 year old females responded more to non-death threats, with the exception of death threats and loved ones. Focus groups were the qualitative method used for data collection in this study. Data was collected from four focus groups (2 male and 2 female), that consisted of 40 to 50 year old regular smokers. Group interviews were conducted as free flowing discussions interspersed with questions pertaining to the major objectives of the study. Projective questioning techniques were used to draw out participants' deeply held beliefs rather than their more easily accessible altitudes. As such, they were not asked direct questions pertaining to attitudes or specifically prompted for response to death and non-death threats. The men and women in this study fitted the characteristics of 'hard core', precontemplative smokers due to their long term smoking behaviour and low-involvement with anti-smoking information. Data were analysed manually according to themes in relation to the major objectives with special consideration given to gender differences that emerged. Attitudes were examined according to emotional, cognitive and behavioural responses. Gender differences are discussed in relation to how responses were articulated. Significant gender differences occurred in attitudinal response to threat in antismoking messages. In particular, gender differences occurred in relation to perceived self-efficacy, and strategies employed to cope with cognitive dissonance and negative emotions that emerged from exposure to anti-smoking messages. Men in this study revealed low levels of perceived self-efficacy, self-esteem and a sense of helplessness and powerlessness over their smoking behaviour. Discussions revealed the men had adopted maladaptive coping responses such as avoidance behaviour and denial in relation to anti-smoking messages. Women in this study revealed higher levels of self-efficacy and derived more benefits from smoking than men. However, their responses indicated anger towards patriarchal and authoritarian anti-smoking messages. Data also revealed that women had adopted maladaptive coping responses such as defiance, reactance and avoidance behaviour in relation to anti-smoking messages. An unexpected finding in this study was that both genders were clearly more accepting of positively framed anti-smoking messages that engendered self-esteem and higher efficacy. The implications for practitioners and researchers are that market segmentation is advisable for older smokers. 'Hard core' smokers may be a difficult group to reach via negatively framed anti-smoking messages and it is possible that positively framed messages may offer a solution. Further quantitative research is indicated into the relative effectiveness of positively framed messages and 'hard core' smokers.