Shooting the messenger : ironic effects of imbalance in anti-drug messages from celebrities
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It is as easy to imagine that celebrities featured in anti-drug commercials uniformly encourage all viewers to abstain from drugs, as it is to imagine that the more closely viewers watch these commercials, the more effective the messages will be. The current research reconsiders both assumptions. Highly anti-marijuana (state of balance) and highly pro-marijuana (state of imbalance) viewers were selected, and their processing style (central vs. peripheral) was manipulated as they watched commercials (with anti-marijuana messages from celebrities for whom all viewers previously reported high appeal). The dependent measures were SOA (Strength of Association conveys the likelihood that attitudes will automatically activate to guide behavior related to marijuana), change in celebrity appeal (pre- to post-commercial), and level of counter argument after the messages. The findings confirm past research (Wagner and Sundar, 2003) suggesting that a peripheral processing style is more effective than central processing, in terms of SOA. They also suggest the usefulness of balance theory (Heider, 1946; Osgood and Tannenbaum, 1966) in studying media effects. In particular, they help understand how the presence of a celebrity, instead of leading to a decrease in the appeal of drugs for its viewers, may have unintended effects of a decrease in the appeal of the celebrity bearing the anti-drug message, and of greater counter-argument after the message. Ironically, these unintended effects were characteristic mostly of pro marijuana viewers who employed a central message processing style; this suggests that advertisers need to reconsider the effectiveness of this genre of messages, and underscores the relevance of social psychology to mass communication.