The Flaws of The “Drunk Driving: Over the Limit. Under Arrest” Campaign – Erica Cuevas
The purpose of a public health intervention is to try to persuade people to change their behaviors. In order to do this, public health interventions have to be effective. This means that it needs to be based on realistic assumptions, its message needs to be given by someone who is similar and liked, and it needs to resonate with the target audience. The Drunk Driving: Over the Limit. Under Arrest campaign was initiated to reduce the number of alcohol-related fatal and non-fatal accidents. Although, the campaign has a great purpose, it has three major flaws. It is based on a false assumption, it only represents adults getting in trouble, and it framed its message in a negative way instead of a positive way.
The first major flaw of the Drunk Driving: Over the Limit. Under Arrest. campaign is that it is based on a false assumption and so; it is not framed appropriately. This campaign assumes that to get caught driving under the influence, a large amount of alcohol needs to be consumed. They express this by showing the alcohol flooding out of the cars of those being pulled over. This assumption is false because someone does not need to drink excessively in order to be considered under the influence. According to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, people over 21 years old need to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level that is less than .08; if under 21 years old, it needs to be less than .02 (1). The amount of alcohol that can be consumed before going over the BAC level depends on the gender, weight and the amount of time spent drinking. For example, a 140-pound male can drink up to three 12oz beers in an hour before reaching a BAC level of .08, while a 200-pound man can have five beers (2). An article by Menashe, C. L. and Siegel, M., mentioned, “The concept of framing has important implications for individuals opinions and attitudes. (3)” This is called Framing Theory. The way a campaign is framed needs to be considered in order to determine what the reaction of the audience is going to be. The way the campaign is framed now, sends the message that someone will not get in trouble unless they drink heavily. Therefore, people will continue to drink and drive because they will not be penalized as long as they only have a couple of drinks. Whereas, the true message of the campaign needs to be that it is unacceptable to drive after consuming any amount of alcohol. In order to send this message across, the campaign needs to be framed in a different way.
The campaign also sends the message that it is okay to drink and drive as long as the person does not drink excessively. This message is unacceptable because it is never okay to drink and drive. This campaign not only tells the audience that they will not get in trouble if they only have a couple of drinks, it also makes them believe that it is okay to do so, which is counter productive because the point of the campaign is to stop people from drinking and driving.
The second major flaw of this campaign is that it only represents adults getting in trouble. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use, “Driving under the influence of alcohol was associated with age in 2010. The rate was highest among persons aged 21 to 25 (23.4 percent). An estimated 5.8 percent of 16 or 17 year olds and 15.1 percent of 18 to 20 year olds reported driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year. Beyond age 25, these rates showed a general decline with increasing age. (4)” Although they are trying to reduce the number of alcohol-related fatal and non-fatal accidents, which include drivers of all ages, teens should be specifically represented and they are not. The campaign includes adult men in casual and in business attire, which shows that men of all income levels can get in trouble. But, women and adolescents are not represented, which may decrease the effectiveness of the campaign among them.
According to the Communications Theory, in order for people to be persuaded, the message of a campaign needs to be given by someone who is likeable, similar, and familiar. In this case, the people in the campaign do not meet any of these criteria. According to Silvia, P. J., “A communicator can increase the positive force toward compliance, perhaps by increasing his or her credibility or attractiveness… similarity should be a particularly potent method of overcoming reactance in the face of threats to freedom. (5)” It is easier to be persuaded by a message if it is told by a peer versus an adult. This is because it is easier to relate to someone within the same age group. According to the same article, “Similarity increases the positive force toward compliance by increasing liking…. Liking another person increases the tendency to like objects that the other person likes… Similarity also enhances the communicator‘s credibility, which further increases the force toward compliance. (6)” If the message of the campaign was given by a peer, the audience may believe it and start changing their behavior as planned.
The third major flaw of this campaign is that it is framed in a negative way instead of a positive way, which is more effective. According to Keller, P. A. and Block, L. G., A recent study suggests “that positive frames are more effective than negative frames when subjects are not motivated to process the message. Low motivation to process the message often prevails in health contexts because people without apparent health problems typically engage in defensive tendencies to avoid the message. (7)” Therefore, Although it is true, that those that drink and drive and get caught will get arrested, perhaps emphasizing the negative consequences wont be as effective as emphasizing the positive consequences. People know the negative consequences of drinking and driving and they still do it, so this campaign is not telling them something new. But, if they were told some positive aspects of not drinking and driving then perhaps, it will change their way of thinking and then change their behavior or vice versa. According to Rains, S. A, and Turner M. M., the Psychological Reactance Theory states that when control is taken away people react by taking control again. This means that if someone is told not to do something, they do it in order to regain control of the situation (8). Therefore, by using a negative message of telling people not to drink and drive because they are going to get arrested, people might feel like their freedom is being taken away and decide to react by drinking and driving in order to keep their freedom. Whereas, if a more positive message was sent out, they might not feel like their freedom is being taken away and so they wont respond by doing the opposite of what was intended.
My proposed intervention is to incorporate three theories that will fix the three major flaws of the current campaign. The three theories are: Framing Theory, Communications Theory, and Marketing theory. Each of these theories will correct the three main flaws of the existing campaign and thus create an improved and effective public health intervention.
The proposed theory to improve the first flaw, which is that the campaign is based on a false assumption, is Framing Theory. According to Lima, J.C., and Siegel, M., “A frame is a way of ‘packaging and positioning an issue so that is conveys a certain meaning.’ Framing is the emphasis placed around particular issues ‘that seeks to define ‘what this issue is really about. ’ ’ The way in which a public issue is framed affects public opinion, influences individual behavior, and plays a central role in the process of public health policy information. (9)” Currently, the issue is framed in a way that says that if a person drinks heavily and gets caught, they will get arrested. The issue should be framed in such a way that says that people should never drink and drive because even a drink of alcohol can impair their judgment and decision-making, which may lead them to never see their loved ones again. Thinking about not seeing their loved ones activates the emotional part of the brain and is a lot more compelling than thinking about spending the night in a jail cell. According to Rustinchini, A., A large number of the areas of the brain associated with the emotional side of decision making, “deal with the estimation of the values of the options, which suggests that the decision process integrates emotional and computational components. (10)” Also, according to Markic, O. “Emotional signals mark the possibilities and outcomes as positive or negative (a kind of alarm) and thus help us decide to take actions that are in accordance with our past experiences. Since such decisions are made relatively quickly and without conscious thinking, they are often called ‘intuitive’. (11)” With that being said, emotions play a large role in decision-making, so it would be effective to appeal to the audience’s emotions when trying to persuade them to change their behavior.
The proposed theory to improve the second flaw, which is that the campaign only represents adults, is Communications Theory. According to Cialdini, R. B, Communications Theory (from the theory of persuasion) states that to effectively persuade someone, the message has to be given by someone who is likeable, familiar, and similar (12). The videos for this campaign do not follow any of these rules in respect to the adolescent population. The people in the campaign are not likeable, familiar, or similar. Instead of the current video, the person driving the car should be an adolescent and the cop driver should be somebody famous. Another idea for a video would be an adolescent having a dream about drinking (one video involving one or two drinks and another involving binge drinking, but with the same result), getting into an accident and losing their significant other or sibling who was also in the car. This will appeal to their emotions, which will weigh-in heavily when deciding to drink and drive.
The proposed intervention to fix the third flaw, which is that the campaign is being framed negatively instead of positively, is Marketing Theory. According to Cialdini, R. B., Marketing Theory uses research to study its target audience and find out what they want or in this case what their thoughts are about drinking and driving: why they do it, and what is their most feared consequence (13). Then, that research is used to create a campaign that fulfills those characteristics and appeals to more basic human values. This campaign should be branded in such a way that all of its components- song, logo, or even the beer or alcohol itself is enough to trigger the message of the campaign. The introduction of Framing Theory, Communications Theory, and Marketing Theory to the Drunk Driving: Over the Limit. Under Arrest campaign, will create a much more successful campaign with a powerful message delivered in a more effective way.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation Registry of Motor Vehicles. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. http://www.mass.gov/rmv/dmanual/chapter_2.pdf
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