08.08.2023 - Western Australia, home to a significant population of alcohol consumers, has seen its fair share of public health campaigns targeting alcohol-related harm over the past decade. Among these, 'Spread' stands out, not just because of its gripping visuals—a 30-second ad where spilt red wine morphs into the shape of a body to symbolise the cancer-causing effects of alcohol—but due to its impact on public perceptions and behaviour.
A concerning 73% of Western Australians aged 14 years and above are known to consume alcohol, with 17% drinking at levels that could pose long-term health risks. That's more than two standard drinks a day on average. To put the gravity of the situation in perspective, alcohol-induced cancers account for over 1,000 hospitalisations in Western Australia annually.
The campaign that stands out
The 'Spread' campaign, launched initially between May 2010 and May 2011, was reinvigorated in 2020. While it intends to raise awareness about the alcohol-cancer link, it does so by not just bombarding the audience with statistics but by striking visuals that resonate and create impact. Its effectiveness is also credited to urging viewers to moderate their drinking habits and directing them to the 'Alcohol Think Again' website for further resources.
Previous assessments found that the campaign was especially successful in raising cancer risk knowledge and encouraging women to curtail their alcohol intake. Another study, comparing 'Spread' to 82 international alcohol harm-reduction ads, crowned it the most effective, notably for providing compelling reasons to reduce alcohol consumption.
Findings from the recent study by Booth et al.
A comprehensive study spearheaded by Leon Booth, Tahnee McCausland, Danica Keric, and a team of researchers, published in the esteemed journal *Addictive Behaviors* (Volume 145, 2023), delved into the intricacies of the 'Spread' campaign's impact. The paper, titled "Evaluating an alcohol harm-reduction campaign advising drinkers of the alcohol-cancer link," offers vital insights into the perceptions and behaviours of Western Australian drinkers following the campaign.
From the sample profile, consisting of 760 current drinkers:
- Around 65% could recognise the campaign's video or still imagery.
- A large chunk of respondents gave positive feedback, with the campaign being viewed as clear (75%), memorable (52%), believable (73%), and trustworthy (69%).
- 61% admitted that the campaign increased their concerns about the detrimental effects of alcohol. Even more telling, almost half (48%) started worrying about their drinking habits.
- Interestingly, 42% felt they learned something new from the campaign.
- 22% of those who recognised the campaign asserted they had successfully dialled back their alcohol consumption in frequency and amount.
While the general public showed recognition of the campaign irrespective of demographic or drinking habits, notable differences emerged when scrutinising high-risk and low-risk drinkers. Despite viewing the campaign less favourably than low-risk drinkers regarding clarity, memorability, trustworthiness, and overall impact, high-risk drinkers showed a heightened concern for personal health risks. Furthermore, a significant percentage of high-risk drinkers were driven to positive behavioural changes. They actively sought information to reduce consumption, initiated discussions about the health implications of drinking, and even consulted health professionals.
This in-depth study by Booth and his team highlights the success of the 'Spread' campaign and underscores the complexities and nuances of public health campaigns in provoking change in target audiences.
What's next for Western Australia?
The findings present an exciting roadmap for future campaigns. The paradoxical reaction where high-risk drinkers exhibited more positive behavioural changes, despite a less enthusiastic attitudinal response to the campaign hints at the complex psychology at play. Some speculate it might be cognitive dissonance—where individuals feel mental discomfort from the clash between their actions and newfound information.
However, the campaign seemed to resonate less with older drinkers, despite them having a higher risk of developing alcohol-induced cancers. As we advance, public health authorities might need to tailor their messaging for this older demographic, considering their unique perceptions and motivations.
In summary, 'Spread' has proven that targeted, impactful campaigns can drive meaningful change.
Full article: "Evaluating an alcohol harm-reduction campaign advising drinkers of the alcohol-cancer link": https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460323001557