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Centre for Behavioural
Research in Cancer

Influence of narrative content and context of anti-smoking public health messages

Overall, the findings from this project provide guidance for the developers of new anti-smoking messages by examining the pathway of effects through which exposure to campaign messages leads to changes in smoking behaviour, and the contribution of interpersonal communication to this pathway. Across one ad rating, one natural exposure and one experimental study, the project found that audience perceptions of message narrativity were positively associated with the extent to which audiences were absorbed or “transported” into the message. Transportation had a positive effect on the amount of positive cognitive processing and self-referencing, which both increased emotional responses. In turn, positive cognitive responses, self-referencing, and emotional responses all independently predicted perceptions of message effectiveness. Perceptions of message effectiveness predicted the likelihood that smokers changed their intentions to quit from before to after seeing anti-smoking advertisements, and perceptions of message effectiveness and changes in intentions to quit both increased the likelihood of changes in actual smoking behaviour. Interpersonal communication substantially influenced this model of effects, with conversations more likely to have positive effects if they contained positive talk about the campaign and if they were naturally occurring rather than forced. Interpersonal communication also extended the reach of a campaign message within a population, with a significant amount of campaign-stimulated talk occurring in the days subsequent to exposure. There was also some evidence that conversation occurrence was predicted by message novelty and controversy, and by self-referencing and emotional responses.

These studies formed the basis of a PhD thesis undertaken by Dr Emily Brennan and were also published as journal papers. Several other studies were undertaken within the project. A study of Victorian Quitline calls provided support for the importance of message narrativity and emotion, indicating greater impact of narrative and highly emotive anti-smoking messages on Quitline calls, especially among disadvantaged groups. Another experimental examination of program context effects on anti-smoking advertisements found, consistent with transportation theory, the association between narrativity and transportation was positive and significant. However, no significant relationship was found between program transportation context and responses to the advertisements.

CBRC staff

A/Prof Sarah Durkin, Dr Emily Brennan, Prof Melanie Wakefield


Prof Yoshihisa Kashima (The University of Melbourne)


ARC Linkage grant, Cancer Council Victoria


2008 - 2017