The Efficacy of Guerrilla Advertising on Public Health Issues

By Kendal Cinnamon
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2014, Vol. 5 No. 1 | pg. 3/3 |


Driven solely to encourage the well-being of a society or individual, the public health industry is beginning to use guerrilla advertising, which can be extremely effective and without the same monetary risks that other profit-driven industries face. Public health initiatives do not rely as heavily on profits or sales or even brand perception as commercial counterparts, but rather they rely on the resonance of messages, which are vital in disseminating public health information, encouraging participation in initiatives, and discouraging dangerous behavior, whether positive, negative, or neutral.

For this study, the RIA scale was developed to provide a starting point for assessing the efficacy of guerrilla advertising in public health. Based on other important research on the resonance of a message, the author developed three subscales (fear appeal, sensory involvement, and environmental circumstances) in the RIA scale. Since this RIA scale fills the void that exists in evaluating the application of a non-traditional advertising strategy in non-commercial industries, it is the author’s hope that this scale could be tested, evaluated, criticized and improved upon to further this field of study.

Limitations and implications for future research

This study has a few limitations. The selected advertisements were analyzed as static images out of context. Advertisements in the real environments might have brought different emotional experience to their viewers. The RIA Scale is still a crude measurement in assessing the efficacy of guerrilla advertising for public health issues, so it could have been more meaningful if the scale’s validity and reliability had been tested.

Further studies can be done with different kinds of guerrilla advertisements. The chosen advertisements involve clear public health issues that have distinct values and consequences. For example, smoking can cause lung cancer, sun exposure can cause skin cancer, and drunk driving can cause collisions. Advertisements on issues that are not as clear and are more divisive in their benefits and consequences, like breast-feeding, vaccinations or nutrition, could lead to different kinds of results. These issues may not trigger the same behavioral change through fear appeal that an anti drunk-driving initiative would arouse. Another study can be done to compare people’s intended behavior or their opinions before and after being exposed to the advertisement. Additionally, an advertisement like “The Smoker’s Lung ” can recommend that viewers visit a website and sign a pledge to stop smoking, which can generate a quantifiable measurement of the advertisement’s resonance and impact and the future behaviors of its audience.


This author is thankful to Dr. David Copeland at Elon University for his supervision and advice, without which the article could not be published. The author also appreciates numerous reviewers who have helped revise this article.


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Advertisement 1: “The Smoker’s Lung”

Fig. 1: Small, hillside farms in Ecuador. (Dana Dusterhoft, photographer)

Body Copy above glass lung: Website URL for The AOK (Germany’s largest health insurance company)

Advertisement 2: “Cut Out”

Headline: “Cutting your sun exposure is easier than cutting out a skin cancer” Body Copy: “Free 30+ sunscreen. There is nothing healthy about a tan. Protect yourself 5 ways from skin cancer.”

Headline: “Cutting your sun exposure is easier than cutting out a skin cancer”

Body Copy: “Free 30+ sunscreen. There is nothing healthy about a tan. Protect yourself 5 ways from skin cancer.”

Advertisement 3: “Crash”

MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Driving Headline: Don’t Drink and Drive

MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Driving Headline: Don’t Drink and Drive

MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Driving Headline: Don’t Drink and Drive

MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Driving Headline: Don’t Drink and Drive

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