Research & Insights

Kids These Days: Teens respond to health messages aimed at their clique

By Melissa Bailey 


Meghan Bridgid Moran, San Diego State University
Steve Sussman, University of Southern California

New research suggests targeting young people based on how they self-identify – such as “skaters” or  “goths”  – can have a big impact on the effectiveness of campaigns aimed to reduce smoking.

Published in the 2014 issue of Health Communication, researchers Meghan Bridgid Moran from San Diego State University and Steve Sussman from University of South California analyzed the efficacy of targeting two anti-smoking campaign ads aimed at specific teenage peer groups. The study discovered that utilizing participants’ social identities – making sure that the teens saw themselves reflected in the ads – was an effective way to get across the anti-smoking message.

An online survey was given to 251 respondents between the ages of 13 and 15. First, the participants were asked to identify which of 11 social groups they identified with. Some examples include academics, elites (including jocks/athletes, preppies, and populars), emo/goth, goody-goodies, hip-hop, musicians, outcasts, rockers, and skaters. Respondents were then shown either an anti-smoking ad that was targeted to their identified social group or a similar anti-smoking ad targeted toward a different social group. They were asked to take another survey one week after viewing the ad.

The ad, based off a truth® campaign print ad, included the message “In the U.S. 1200 people die every day from tobacco related disease. One company called younger adult smokers ‘replacement smokers.’ Another brainstormed targeting potential smokers in school bathrooms, playgrounds, YMCAs and city parks.”

The researcher found that targeted ads showing pictures of teens in their identified social group were most effective. “Specifically,” the researchers write, “we found that as participants identified more with the group targeted by the ad, they subsequently had stronger levels of one key anti-smoking belief presented by the ad.”

“Because social identity is linked to media use, style preferences, hobbies and values as well as health behavior, targeting individuals by social identity may enable campaign developers and researchers to maximize the efficiency of their efforts by developing messages that resonate with a particular group and placing those messages in media and contexts most likely to be frequented by members of those groups,” suggest the researchers.

While this is great news for anti-smoking campaigns, they are not the only beneficiaries of these findings. “Together, this body of evidence points to social identity targeting as an effective new tool that should be considered by those seeking to develop health communication messages,” the researchers concluded.

Health Communication

Melissa Bailey is a graduate from the University of Florida with degrees in Journalism and Biology. Follow her on Twitter.

Posted: July 2, 2015
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