Advertising is a complex tool, which when used correctly can carry a strong message. One advertisement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) features an ex-smoker who is giving life advice. In the advertisement in question, a female ex-smoker is showing how to get ready in the morning. She first puts in her teeth, which she has lost from smoking, then puts on her wig to cover the bald head that the viewer assumes is a result of chemotherapy. Finally, the speaker puts in a digital device to cover up the hole in her throat and to allow her to speak (CDC, 2012). This type of advertisement is a public service announcement that is designed to give health advice and to prevent viewers from smoking. It uses fear tactics, in that it is uncomfortable to watch (Maclaran et al., 2002). The advertisement in general is part of a larger series aimed at scaring smokers with the threat of lung cancer, and is generally very effective. The purpose of this paper is to explore the advertisement in context of fear tactics and its effectiveness. It will become clear that this type of advertising is a powerful tool in marketing that can have potentially strong effects.

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The main reason that this advertisement is effective is that it instills fear in the viewer. It shows the horrifying effects of cancer on the body, which is a side-effect of smoking (Maclaran et al., 2002). The woman does not look healthy and cannot speak unaided, which makes the viewer scared of the potential consequences of smoking (CDC, 2012). It is also fairly grotesque, in that the speaker has to cover the hole in her throat to allow her to speak, something which is generally not socially acceptable. Using fear as an emotion has been shown to be an important tool in marketing as it appeals to pathos (Maclaran et al., 2002). This type of advertisement is also very common in public health announcements from the CDC, who wish to warn viewers about the consequences of their actions (Marlin, 2012). Fear is a very powerful emotion and one that makes us consider our actions.

It is also interesting that the speaker is a woman. The majority of women in advertising are airbrushed and designed to look as beautiful as possible in order to sell a product (Marlin, 2012). This woman is the complete antithesis. Again, by appealing to pathos, women who are watching may become aware of the effects that smoking has on their looks and that cancer treatment requires the loss of hair. It is also an appeal to vanity (Maclaran et al., 2002). It is also a stark contrast from the normal advertising that is shown on television, ensuring that viewers take notice because of its stark contrast. One of the main goals of advertising is to create something that is so unique that it remains in the viewer’s memory after watching (Maclaran et al., 2002), and this advertisement succeeds in that goal. In this sense, it is very effective as an advertisement.

There is a further appeal to pathos in the advertisement. The viewer feels sorry for the woman who has obviously suffered greatly as a result of her smoking (CDC, 2012). Although some would suggest that smoking is something that the woman has chosen to do, the viewer cannot help but feel that it is unfair that she has had to suffer so greatly (Maclaran et al., 2002). In this sense, the use of sympathy and sadness is a further way of ensuring that the advertisement is as emotional as possible. Pathos is a common tool in advertising as it helps to ensure that it stays in the viewer’s consciousness – it is associated with something more than just a product or a warning (Marlin, 2012). Again, the CDC advertisement is extremely memorable and therefore achieves its goals as an advertisement.

The advert is not without its criticisms. It has been noted to be unsuitable for showing on television because of its grotesque nature, which can often make people uncomfortable (Marlin, 2012). Whilst this is true, the concept of the advertisement is to make people uncomfortable and therefore less likely to smoke, and in this sense it is an unfortunate consequence of the ultimate goal of the advertisement (Maclaran et al., 2002). The argument made by the advert is that the effects of smoking on the body are terrible and grotesque (CDC, 2012) and therefore the advertisement is required to use this feature to get the point across. Whilst it is clearly unsuitable for showing to young children who may get upset, it is important to note that cancer is a terrible illness that does cause these effects.

In conclusion, the CDC (2012) “A Tip from a Former Smoker” is an extremely effective advertisement that strongly appeals to pathos. It works on multiple levels, in that it appeals to vanity, fear and sadness. It is also a disturbing and unique advertisement, ensuring it will stay in the viewer’s consciousness and is therefore effective. Overall, it has become clear that appealing to pathos is an effective way of using advertisements to get a message across. It is also evident that public health announcements such as this are required to make a very different statement with their advertising than standard product marketing. Effective advertisements do not always have to be glossy and appealing – they can be the complete opposite and still achieve their goal.

  • CDC: Tips from Former Smokers – Terrie’s Ad. (2012). Retrieved from
  • Maclaran, P., Saren, M., Goulding, C., Elliott, R., & Caterall, M. (2012). Critical Marketing. Routledge.
  • Marlin, R. (2002). Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion. Broadview Press.