Do shame-based anti-drinking ads backfire?

A study on the effectiveness of anti-binge-drinking ads has found, irony of ironies, that they might hurt more often than they help. Consumer psychologists Nidhi Agrawal and Adam Duhachek have found that advisories that focus on shaming binge drinkers often spur defensiveness and indignation rather than remorse in their intended audience. The study's centerpiece was a print ad from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario showing a young woman doing the Big Spit into a toilet on prom night. Participants in the study reacted defiantly to the ad, and were less opposed to the idea of binge drinking than they were before seeing it. "We feel shame when we do something mean or bad, but we cannot function in this world if we go around thinking we are mean, bad people," Agrawal says. "If you overload people with these emotions when they're already feeling guilty, then you give them an incentive to dissent … because we need to preserve our notions of ourselves as good people." A better tactic, Agrawal suggests, is offering constructive advice wrapped around positive emotions. Of course, this is all based on one study, so take it with the required skepticism. But if this means less maudlin moralizing for me to sit through, I'll raise a toast to their findings.

—Posted by David Kiefaber