The numbers of deaths have increased immensely in previous years; therefore road safety is a major concern. The RSA constantly try to amplify awareness of road safety as many drivers ignore new rules of the road. Persuasive communication is used throughout for all types of advertising and lately is becoming a main method in highlighting the dangers of the road. Persuasive communication is considered to be a ‘‘communication such as a speech or television advertisement that advocates a particular side of an issue’’ (Aronson, Wilson and Akert, 2014) and persuasive advertisements aspire to persuade individuals to change their outlook on certain issues, such as road safety. Social media websites play a huge role in society today and many of these websites such as Facebook are displaying persuasive advertisements to spread word about issues more rapidly. The focus of this study is about the impact persuasive communication has on road safety and whether putting road safety advertisements on social media websites is a worthwhile cause. In this report four experiments on persuasive communication are discussed followed by why the RSA should use social media websites to portray road safety messages.
Brijs, Daniels, Brijs and Wets (2011) conducted three sets of studies in order to assess the efficiency of safety belt campaigns by inspecting whether being exposed to the campaign would/would not affect variables identified by the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) as key elements of behaviour, and to find out “whether the way in which participants would be exposed to the campaign stimulus would affect the campaign stimulus’ effectiveness” (Brijs et al., 2011). It was also done to confirm which of the dissimilar hypothetical concepts on the use of safety belts would receive most support, i.e., automaticity approach (out of habit or as past/repeated behaviour) or planned behaviour approach. Three studies where made up of different groups of students, aged 18-25, whom were recruited at Hasselt University, two being experimental groups and one a control group. The two experimental groups were exposed to the seat belt advertisement in which “two exposure conditions were distinguished from each other, i.e., explicit and subliminal exposure” (Brijs et al., 2011). Explicit exposure signifies that participants are completely aware of being exposed to a campaign stimulus, i.e., information is processed consciously. For this, the group were asked to view the billboard which was projected in the lecture room. Subliminal exposure entails participants being unaware of exposure to the stimulus with information being processed pre-attentively (subconscious mode). This group were exposed to the campaign by billboards in their main hall of university. The control group, however, had no viewing of the campaign. All three groups then asked filled out a two part survey; one part representing respondent-related background information and the other TPB variables. “The results signified that the campaign stimulus used influenced participants’ evaluation of a series of important determinants of behaviour as well as self-reported behaviour itself” (Brijs, et al., 2011). “The results also showed the recorded campaign effect was in the expected direction with higher mean values for the different variables questioned for participants being exposed to the campaign verses members of the control group” (Birjs et al., 2011).
A similar study in regards to seat belt wearing was conducted by Tay (2011) in which a sample of drivers supplied their views and awareness of two seatbelt wearing advertisements with dissimilar emotional appeals. This study consisted of 212 drivers, recruited from two separate locations: one being a university to represent the younger population and the second a taxi rink as a large percentage of taxi drivers would not wear seatbelts regularly. In the study a questionnaire was first conducted and then two advertisements were shown to the participants and their opinions were recorded and evaluated. “The two videos were shown in random order to different participants to reduce any potential order effects; one advertisement had a more negative emotional appeal (fear) while the other had more a positive emotional appeal (humour)” (Tay, 2011). The first advertisement showed a young female driving in the evening on a deserted road; the driver sneezed, a ghost in the backseat gave her a tissue; causing the driver to brake and the ghost go through the front window. This advertisement utilised mostly humour as an emotional appeal although there might be some fear incorporated as well. More importantly, this video was selected as a humour-based advertisement. The second video showed four young adults in a vehicle that was involved in a collision. In this the unbelted passenger hurled around in the vehicle, killing all occupants and seriously injuring themselves. “This advertisement focused on fear as an appeal and the advertisement continued with an emergency worker saying, ‘the one without the seatbelt did the damage’ and then ended with ‘No Seatbelt, No Excuse’” (Tay, 2011). To confirm the hypothesis on the dissimilar emotional appeals, participants were asked if they agreed/disagreed that the advertisements they seen were frightening and/or humorous with the use of a 5-point Likert scale. A ten part questionnaire was then done by the participants and several t-tests were then conducted to check this hypothesis. “These measured the perceived severity and likelihood of threat, the perceived message efficacy, self-efficacy, the perceived cost of threat and benefits of adopting the coping strategy, realism and credibility of the message and adaptive intentions” (Tay, 2011). Results exposed that both advertisements were triumphant in increasing participant’s intent to wear a safety belt and comply with the safety belt law. “In addition results attested to the importance of using established theoretical models when developing a road safety message” (Tay, 2011).
Carey and Sarma (2001) conducted a study that “explored the effects of viewing death-related facts and graphic, static images of road traffic accidents on participants’ self-reported intentions to take driving risks” (Carey and Sarma, 2001). It also observed the degree to which personality variables may additionally clarify variations in intentional risk taking. “The dependent variable was the self-reported intention to take driving risks” (Carey and Sarma, 2001). Within this study participants were exposed to mortality salient or neutral facts. The aim of this was to examine threat based advertisements or ‘fear appeals’ to stimulate prevention of dangerous driving on young male drivers. This study consisted of eighty males, between 17 and 24 whom all possessed full licences. Forty of whom were randomly allocated to mortality salient condition and the other forty to the control. Participants were asked to complete two self-report scales, an experiment, two word based activities and an IVE questionnaire. After the first self-report scale participants in the experimental condition (mortality salient) were asked to “read five facts about driving which were accompanied by three images of road traffic accidents supplied by the RSA, relating to mortality-related risks of driving, which were followed by the warning ‘dangerous driving kills’ and participants in the control condition were asked to read five neutral facts about driving unrelated to risks, crashes or deaths” (Carey and Sarma, 2001). Then participants took part in the word-based activities; one of which was a word search which had neutral words unrelated to death and the other consisted of twenty-two words, eight of which could either be related/unrelated to death and was done to assess death-thought accessibility. An IVE questionnaire was then filled out by participants; this was used to measure certain variables. A second self-report scale was carried out to measure “participant’s risky driving interventions; in which they were asked to read ten scenarios, each had a situation where one may take a particular driving risk” (Carey and Sarma, 2001). Participants were asked to give a percentage answer on how likely they would be to take the risk in each scenario. Results of this study publicized that “participants in the mortality salient condition completed more word fragments to make death-related words than those in the control condition and also revealed that impulsiveness correlated significantly with intention to take driving risks” (Carey and Sarma, 2001).
A Sibley and Harré (2009) experiment investigated the impact that various road safety adverts had on young drivers’ explicit and implicit self-enhancement biases in driving ability and caution. Self-enhancement is the belief by drivers themselves that they are superior to other drivers in relation to ability and caution. ‘‘Self-enhancement biases in both of these domains predict crash risk optimism’’ (Harré, Foster, & O’Neill, 2005; Harré & Sibley, 2007). This study consisted of three conditions; one with negatively framed advertisements, another with positively framed advertisements and the last being a control, each involving fifty randomly assigned participants (one hundred and fifty in total). These groups “were unaware there were different conditions and were told they would be participating in two tasks, which were presented to them as unrelated studies” (Sibley & Harré, 2009). Firstly the groups were shown a series of advertisements and were then told to rate them according to certain variables. This was “primarily to convince participants that viewing the advertisements was unrelated to the self-enhancement task that followed” (Sibley & Harré, 2009). Participants viewed three adverts that showed people that were seriously injured/killed during drink driving accidents in the negative framing condition. In the positive framing condition, participants watched three adverts that showed people choosing to take precautions when it came to drink driving, such as assigning a designated drink driver; who wouldn’t drink and drive home or opt to getting a taxi. The controlled group watched advertisements that were entirely unrelated to drink driving; which involved advertisements on mental illnesses. “All groups then took part in what they believed was an unrelated task, in which they completed a series of computerized reaction-time based tasks known as IATs in order to assess implicit driving self-concept; with each IAT consisted of seven blocks” (Sibley & Harré, 2009). Results indicated that those who took part in the positive framed condition displayed a weaker explicit self-enhancement in comparison to those in the negative framed and controlled groups. “Although exposure to positively framed advertisements significantly reduced self-enhancement biases in driving ability, it is important to note that participants in this condition still considered themselves better-than-average drivers, just notas far aboveaverage as drivers exposed to the control and negative framing condition” (Sibley & Harré, 2009). However, this study does not indicate if a change in self-enhancement biases would result in a change in behaviour.
In experiments it is vital to recognize strengths, weaknesses or limitations. Having a control, for instance, would be a major strength to have as it keeps balance and gives the experimenter something to compare results against thus leading to a more wide variety of methods. In the experiments above there have also been limitations, such as in the first experiment, in terms of “effect size, values obtained suggested that differences between exposed and unexposed participants were small and in several cases not even statistically significant” (Brijs et al., 2011). Also in the last experiment by Sibley and Harré (2009) it was found that men and women were both equally influenced by exposure to different types of driving advertisement.
It is clear from the experiments above that persuasive communication plays a vital role in road safety advertisements and is very effective. However, in order to increase this effectiveness the RSA should consider displaying advertisements on social media sites. “Social media has emerged from the internet’s development which allows for sharing, linking, collaborating, and inclusion of production and distribution of particular content” (Banks, Tay & Mason, 2011). Social media has the possibility to control the power of viral marketing and is also more cost effective than traditional media in attaining audiences. Rajagopalan and Subramani (2003) found that “viral marketing is a powerful means for both marketers and recipients to benefit from the innate helpfulness of individuals in social networks and such technologies are being harnessed by social marketers using the internet for promotional activities and engaging users in creative processes” (Rajagopalan & Subramani, 2003). According to Nielson (2012) “there is a digital community of 20.4 million users; 93% of them accessing the internet daily” (Nielsen, 2012), “thus it is no wonder that social marketers have addressed the need for social media in their marketing campaigns” (Banks, Tay and Mason, 2011). Murray and Lewis (2011) showed how social media helped public health and injury prevention increase dramatically due to the use of social media sites and therefore suggest that social media could play an important role in road safety advertising and may be an important mode of delivering road safety communications to high risk road users, especially that of a younger age (Murray & Lewis, 2011). Thus the use of social media sites could be an effective tool in the next generation of road safety advertisements campaigns.