New York University Communications Discussion


Introduction: Describe the problem that your communication campaign is trying to help solve; explain the importance of your campaign topic; identifies and describes the mission of a possible sponsor; identifies a potential target audience; identifies what outcome the campaign seeks and how the outcome advances the mission of the sponsor. Include a roadmap (thesis) that previews the rest of the paper.

Target audience: Identify no more than 1 target audience. Analyze and describes the characteristics, demographics, psychographics, as well as, commonalities, diversities, equities, inequities, and any inclusionary information of the target audience. Justify decisions with theory or research.

Attitudes and behavior: Identify no more than 1 target audience. Analyze and describes the characteristics, demographics, psychographics, etc. as well as, commonalities, diversities, equities, inequities, and any inclusionary information of the target audience. Justify decisions with theory or research.

Setting and Channels: Specify no more than 2 different settings/contexts and defines channels to be used in the execution of your campaign and categorize these channels as interpersonal, group, or mass communication channels.? Consider inclusionary and access aspects of the campaign

Design features: Identify at least 5 persuasive design features, justifying the decisions with theory or research, and present an argument for how these design features will work together, ethically, to create an impactful campaign; provide campaign features work together to create content that reflects the integration of diversity and inclusion in a way that is organic for the campaign sponsor

Next steps: Present your recommendations regarding the next steps for your campaign. Present a cohesive plan for how these design features will work together to create a more impactful campaign, and what the campaign will look like. You might include steps you would take to bring this campaign to fruition successfully.

Style and reference: The reference list should identify at least 8 pieces of literature, which can be primary research, secondary research, or theoretical readings assigned by the course or found on your own.?Follow APA style.? Your paper should be no more than 15 pages double-spaced (not including the title page, and reference list).

– background section is to be a bulleted and reduced to the key points, only. Why?
Because it helps you refer back and forth to the background in examining the design
features. It’s also helpful if you were to ever create a presentation for this work (which is
not a component of the course – but a good strategy to learn.).
Design feature section:
– You also need to add an overarching theory that frames the campaign and explain why
and how it connects to your design features in a general way. (-2)
– Would like to see more connectivity of features – and that will happen with seeing these
features described within the framework of a persuasive theory.
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
According to new research, sugary beverages are the highest sugar source in the
American diet, such as soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened waters (Know Your
Limits for Added Sugars, 2022). A robust body of evidence has connected habitual consumption
of Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) with weight gain and greater risk (contrasted with
infrequent SSB intake) of cardiovascular illnesses, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers (American
Heart Association, 2022). 30% of the global population have obesity or overweight, which gives
rise to substantial health, economic and social costs. This is particularly true in Kentucky, where
people 14 to 26 years, representing 23.8%, are obese, making the state the number one state in
the US (CDC, 2021). It is an excellent opportunity for a healthy low-cal beverage campaign to
target customers while increasing their awareness and consciousness. Research shows that
consumers of low-calorie, sugar-free foods and beverages have incorporated these products into
an overall healthy lifestyle (Know Your Limits for Added Sugars, 2022). Maintaining better
overall health was rated as the number one reason for using low-calorie products. For many
consumers of low-calorie products, maintaining better overall health includes achieving and
maintaining appropriate body weight. Thus, it has become pertinent for health and well-being
campaigns within the state to focus on changing the attitudes and behaviors of these people so
that pro-nutrition becomes a common social practice. It attracts the consumer’s attention to
choose healthier and low-cal alternative beverages to meet consumer health, nutrition, and
sustainability demand. So it is essential to promote the health low cal beverage campaign to draw
more audience’s attention and change their minds and attitudes towards the product.
This paper aims to persuade more potential consumers to convert their intentions into
healthier purchasing and combustion habits by changing their minds and turning a positive
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
attitude toward the low cal beverages. The outcome of the low-cal beverage campaign
encourages consumers to purchase and consume low-calorie beverages to help organizations
such as Kentucky’s Department of Public Health with their healthy drinks campaign towards
reducing cases of obesity. Kentucky’s Department of Public Health (DPH) will sponsor this
campaign since at least 23.8% of the state’s child population stands to benefit from interventions
and the number of heart illness diagnoses is likely to go down (CDC, 2021). This report aims to
formulate a model operation intended to persuade a targeted group to buy a low-calorie drink and
enhance their health and diet awareness levels. The usefulness of this paper will include (a)
Kentucky’s DPH might use these suggestions for their healthy nutrition campaign and (b)
individuals might learn ways of increasing their health and diet consciousness levels and be
persuaded to take on a more nutritionally healthy lifestyle.
The proposed audience for this campaign is the millennials and Gen-Z generations. Their
demographics are between 16 to 36 years, who are health-conscious or have the awareness to
enhance their well-being and are searching for meal substitutes or low-calorie alternatives to
SSBs. So the target audience is those who want to drink a healthy and tasty drink, to feel
adequate, look good and enhance their overall well-being. Millennials and Gen Z want to balance
social and physiological desires to consume healthy drinks to pay for a healthy lifestyle and view
it as an ongoing commitment (Cision, 2020). The Millennials and Gen Z in Kentucky are
selected as the target area for this campaign as the state is leading with the number of obese
children who risk developing other weight-related complications.
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
Attitude is not equal to behavior, which corresponds to the audience’s behavior to some
degree, and individuals can easily connect to issues arising within their immediate life situation
(Hauke, 2018). So, campaigning against the consumption of SSBs and promoting healthy
lifestyles will be easier as the benefit of a pro- nutrition lifestyle will be the consumer. According
to the International Sweeteners Association (2020), a positive attitude about palatability and
appetite control are critical determinants of low cal sweetened beverage consumption. So it is
essential to convey that participants could intake fewer calories from the low-cal beverages, feel
less guilty about their drink intake, and be more in control of their ability when LCS beverages.
It will use the cognitive dissonance theory to raise dissonance in the audience when they drink
unhealthy and high-sugar drinks, may feel uncomfortable, and use the theory to raise dissonance
in the audience to change attitudes. Meanwhile, The campaign promotes healthy beverage
consumption behavior to educate populations about the harm of high cal beverages and the
benefits of low-cal beverages and health-related issues. We could use the Theory of Planned
Behavior (TPB), attitude can control and change behaviors and intents in advance on the
subjective will (Gregorio, 2018). Individuals already consuming SSBs will choose to quit, while
those who have not consumed them will take preventive measures.
According to Lin & Chang (2018), individuals shape their perception of reality centered
on media portrayals, experiences, and ways of behavior. Media has the most substantial impact
as individuals attend to and view the same content in everyday activities. Thus, the content of the
campaign in common areas or individual social feeds will strengthen the connection of the wellbeing issue to the targeted audience’s life situations. It helps redefine social practices and
establish a new behavioral norm of drinking low-calorie beverages.
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
Setting and channels
The mass communication channels have strong power, and the low-cal beverage
campaign should incorporate social media. So, it is vital to make customers feel empowered to
join the health-conscious movement since hesitant clients will be exposed to numerous social
compels, interactive contacts, and social pressures from health and nutritionally-aware
acquaintances. The campaign will utilize Instagram as a prominent place to help empower
customers to join health-conscious campaigns. The reason to use Instagram is that the
organization connects with customers (Mammadova & Pogrebnaya, 2019) to discover what is
happening worldwide and share and express what matters to them. Instagram has over 1.3 billion
users, 33.2% of whom are between the ages of 18-34, and the majority of them check stories
daily (Statista, 2022). This accounts for a vast potential audience and will therefore serve as an
effective platform for the Kentucky Department of Public Health to use for its Health and
Wellness Corporation. It could use the user engagement theory in the campaign, such as the user
could use the platform interface to create interactivity to have the ability to allow the audience to
participate in the content of the campaign and influence the degree of the audience engagement
and their attitudes.
Design features
Rational and Emotional Appeal
The first design feature will use rational and emotional appeal to entice sustainable
consumption of healthy drinks. There exist paths an individual is predicted to take when
processing a message (Gass & Seiter, 2018). The first is the central path, which comprises
cognitive elaboration, which involves taking time to analyze and review the presented
information, including facts and statistics. Thus, from the rational outlook, science-based
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
evidence and statistics will be used to demonstrate to the targeted group the correlation between
SSBs consumption and obesity and its correlated implications and how many people have been
helped by the reduction or total removal of SSBs from diets. The second path will involve
emotional appeal, where in the context of nutrition and wellness, it would be more prudent to
portray a healthy individual rather than an unhealthy one (Wel, 2018). When the nutrition appeal
(drinking low-calorie drinks) is used with a healthy visual (healthy young woman maybe), an
individual will correlate the two, and the appeal to emotions message will be assigned to the
behavior depicted by the message visuals. This is found to be especially effective in reinforcing
wellness in those people with higher nutrition awareness. This audience focuses more on
subconscious judgments like enjoyable visuals rather than details (Mediano, 2021).
People overall are innately attracted to things similar to them. This similarity generates
greater liking, and higher likability results in more decisive social influence (Caldini, 2021).
Therefore, it is vital to address the targeted group and think the individuals in it are “similar to
me” (emphasizing social and demographic characteristics, personal experiences, and affiliations).
It could generate a higher likability of the messages and will result in more persuasiveness of the
message (Stiff & Mongeau, 2016). The foundation of this approach will be the similarity
concept. Good or bad, similarity will impact an individual’s perception or opinion consequently
(Wel, 2018). Our campaign’s objective will be to change the connection or perceived similarity
our targeted group has will pro-wellness and nutrition behavior. By featuring visual ads to attract
the audience from the state of Kentucky, the campaign will ensure that everybody in the
audience can see themselves in the sources and make a connection between the sources’
experiences and their own (Blanco & Izquierdo, 2022). Therefore, the organization should
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
advertise able to picture a family of friends drinking low-calorie beverages so that purchasers
might feel motivated to participate within a comparable faction. To this end, the targeted group
who by this time associates with the connections of the campaign’s models will classify
themselves as equivalent.
Outcome-Relevant Involvement
The third design feature is outcome-relevant involvement. Stiff and Mongeau (2016)
discovered that individuals with a higher outcome-relevant involvement are more concerned with
matters with positive outcomes. An individual’s well-being is one of the most crucial aspects of
living, with an individual’s health being said to make people highly invested and greatly
concerned with having positive outcomes. For instance, wellness enhances a person’s social life
and capacity to live healthily and have a good quality of life (Hsieh & Li, 2019). Thus, our
campaign’s message and visuals will illustrate how the proposed early change in behavior will
result in positive outcomes. With the message linking the issue of quitting sugary drinks with the
anticipated positive outcomes, this issue will raise more considerations concerning our message
recipient’s capacity to achieve said outcomes.
Cohesiveness in Campaign Features, Inclusion, and Diversity
There exist numerous similarities and overlaps between these design features. Thus, these
campaign features can work together cohesively and ethically to augment the campaign’s impact.
For instance, we could design a poster leveraging similarity and emotional appeals. As
mentioned earlier, a compelling wellness message for a poster would be a healthy person
drinking a low-calorie drink that depicts the positive outcomes of drinking these beverages. The
poster would additionally have a picturesque backdrop that comprises healthy drinks to prompt
an appeal to emotions. If we encourage similar conduct, the campaign’s message can be, “do you
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
think individuals consuming low-calorie drinks are less likely to suffer from heart diseases?”
Moreover, the targeted group will associate this entice and the similarity of selection with
similarly drinking the low-calorie drink. Our campaign will also create content reflecting the
incorporation of inclusion and diversity. To prepare for this campaign, the communicators will
cooperate with Kentucky’s DPH to create content for the interpersonal messaging to be shared in
the initial conversation and online material that will offer more details. People representing
various groups in the state’s population will be recruited as models, including by gender, sex,
orientation, ethnicity, and race. These people will share their positive experiences with drinking
low-calorie drinks on Instagram. Sharing real-life examples will resonate with other individuals
in a similar situation looking for solutions.
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
American Heart Association (2022). Rethink Your Drink: Reducing Sugary Drinks in Your
Blanco, M. P., & Izquierdo, M. (2022). Engaging with customer’s emotions: A case study in
English-Spanish online food advertising. Languages in Contrast, 22(1), 43-76.
Cialdini, R. B. (2021). Truths are us. In Influence: The psychology of persuasion (New and
Expanded ed). Harper Business.
Cision. (2020, July 8). Global Health Drinks Market: Consumer Behavior Analysis by
Countries, Buying Pattern Analysis, Demographics, Trends Analysis, Survey Findings
and Results, Leading Companies and Their Market Strategies. Retrieved September 26,
2022, from
CDC. (2022). Rethink your drink.
CDC. (2021). Childhood Obesity Facts.
Gass, R. H., & Seiter, J. S. (2018). Persuasion: Social influence and compliance gaining.
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
Gregorio, P. (2018). An Experimental Examination of the Role of the Theory of Planned
Behavior Constructs in Decreasing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption.
Hauke, C. (2018). Improving the effectiveness of charitable advertising: the influence of
guilt and regulatory focus framing on viewer responses to similarity-based appeals in
different age groups (Master’s thesis, University of Twente).
Hsieh, C. M., & Li, Q. (2019). What importance? Importance weighting and subjective wellbeing. Journal of Well-Being Assessment, 3(2), 59-74.
Know Your Limits for Added Sugars. (2022, January 13). Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from
Kamarudzaman, F. K., Shamsul’Anuar, F. S., Abidin, I. H. Z., & Usman, S. B. (2022).
Lin, H. C., & Chang, C. M. (2018). What motivates health information exchange in social
media? The roles of the social cognitive theory and perceived interactivity. Information
& Management, 55(6), 771-780.
Mammadova, N., & Pogrebnaya, A. (2019). The Use of the Instagram Platform and Text
Messengers in the Context of Contemporary Education. SSRN Electronic Journal.
Healthy Low Cal Beverage Campaign
Mediano, F. (2021). Soda Advertising Effects On Children’s Beverage Preferences As
Mediated By Attitudes Toward The Ad And Product: Comparing impacts of child-vs.
non-child-directed targeting strategies and use of emotional appeals.
Statista. (2022). US Instagram users 2022, by Age Group.,base%20in%20the%20
Stiff, J. B., & Mongeau, P. A. (2016). Persuasive communication. Guilford Publications.
Well, M. R. (2018). How to persuade the health-oriented consumer (Master’s thesis,
University of Twente).
Distrust and Verify: Promoting Source-Checking Behaviors in Conspiracy-Disposed
Facebook Users
“The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several
factors,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bulletin begins, “including an online
environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories” (U.S. Department
of Homeland Security, 2022a). The American public appears to share this sentiment.
Responses to a 2019 poll by Pew Research Center showed that Americans consider the fake
news epidemic more concerning than other vital issues such as illegal immigration and climate
change (Mitchell et al., 2019). Ironically, many of these respondents have themselves likely
spread misinformation on social media. Indeed, the same survey found that nearly half of
Americans have shared stories on social media they later discovered were false or misleading.
When asked to name the biggest obstacles to stopping the spread of such disinformation,
respondents cited both the ever-growing political divide and public apathy towards the
importance of fact-checking (Mitchell et al., 2019). The media goliath Facebook has proven a
particularly harmful conduit, with studies showing that heavy Facebook users are directed to
untrustworthy news sites far more frequently than are users of other platforms such as Twitter
(Guess et al., 2020, pp. 475-476).
Whatever the determinants, the sharing of online misinformation has significant realworld consequences. For example, research shows that foreign-sourced anti-science
disinformation on social media can substantially drop vaccination rates against infectious
diseases (Wilson and Wiysonge, 2020, pp. 5-6). Additionally, federal investigations have linked
social media conspiracy theories and misinformation to instances of violence and increases in
domestic extremism (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2019). Such motivation comes at the
hands of social media’s ability to quickly disseminate highly accessible forms of fake news to
broad swaths of unsuspecting users, many of whom belong to homogeneous echo chambers
filled with groupthink and cyclical logic (FBI, 2019, pp. 4-5).
These consequences are the impetus behind the Freedom Forum Institute (FFI)’s fight
against disinformation. A nonprofit founded in 1991, the FFI promotes the First Amendment
through public advocacy and education (Freedom Forum Institute, n.d.). One such educational
initiative is Disinformation Nation, a web-based project that allows users to explore the various
types and risks of propaganda while simultaneously discovering their own weak points and
susceptibilities (Disinformation Nation, n.d.). The FFI’s nonprofit and nonpartisan reputation,
combined with its pre-existing intent and infrastructure to counter disinformation, makes it a
prime sponsor for any mission to interrupt the spread of misinformation across social media.
Thus, this paper proposes an FFI-sponsored mass media campaign to persuade those
most susceptible to fake news to verify the sources of online articles before sharing the
information with their social networks. The campaign, which takes place across both Facebook
and a dedicated website, is rooted in the theoretical concepts of cognitive dissonance and Petty
and Cacioppo’s (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model. In the following pages, this brief will
provide more detail on the previously-mentioned theories, further define the campaign’s target
audience, specify the campaign’s desired attitude and behavior changes, and walk through the
setting and channels through which the identified audience will engage with the content. The
paper will then dive deeper into the campaign’s strategic approach and plans for tactical
implementation before concluding with an acknowledgment and assessment of the ethical
considerations crucial to responsible persuasive communication.
Theoretical Approach
This brief finds it important to lay the groundwork for further discussion by providing
a theoretical context for its strategic and tactical approaches. Just as the campaign divides
itself into multiple distinct phases, so does it leverage two established models in the field of
persuasive communication. The specific ways the campaign applies these theories will be
explicated in the sections following this brief overview.
Cognitive Dissonance
Humans are creatures of consistency (Cialdini, 2006, p. 44; Gass and Seiter, 2010, p.
54). Once we have dedicated ourselves to a belief, attitude, or action, we are dogged in our
determination to uphold such commitments (Cialdini, 2006, p. 50). Yet, such a stubborn, whiteknuckle grip is not always possible, especially when the anchor we cling to is a hologram
inconsistent with the reality in which it supposedly exists. The more this consistency is critical to
upholding our fundamental beliefs and values, the greater the lengths we will go to in order to
maintain it, even if this necessitates leaving logical thought lingering by the wayside (Gass and
Seiter, 2010, p. 55).
The theory of cognitive dissonance explains this innate willingness to cross a Mariana
Trench of rationality. Described by Aronson (2011) as the feeling of taut discomfort resulting
from the realization that we hold cognitions in direct opposition to one another (p. 180), cognitive
dissonance theory holds that the desire to relieve this psychological malaise and maintain
consistency is a powerful motivator for behavior change (Festinger, 1962, p. 93).
Elaboration Likelihood Model
With its focus on moderating the impact of heuristic reflex by motivating deliberate
scrutiny (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986), the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) is an excellent
theoretical complement to the logical fallacies of cognitive dissonance. The ELM posits that an
individual’s feelings toward a particular message are often decided based on their motivation to
possess the socially “correct” or expected attitude towards the persuasive appeal (Stiff and
Mongeau, 2016, p. 116). Yet, in a world overstimulated by constant persuasion, it is impossible
to expect an individual to sieve each message through the filter of critical thought. Indeed, only
those messages that individuals are highly motivated to adjust are granted the honor of
deliberate analysis. Thus, the intensity of an individual’s desire to change their behavior is
moderated based on their perceptions of the validity of their current opinion (Stiff and Mongeau,
2016, p. 116).
In its approach to behavior change, the ELM holds that humans process messages
through two routes: central and peripheral (Stiff and Mongeau, 2016, pp. 116-117). In the
central route, persuasion is achieved through deliberate scrutiny of the message’s content, after
which the audience draws their own conclusions regarding the aptitude of the requested
behavior (p. 116). To do this, the audience members must both be motivated to expend this
extra cognitive fuel on the message and perceive themselves as having the ability to do so (pp.
117-118). Under central processing, the persuasive argument’s quality is a deciding factor in the
audience’s ultimate decision towards behavior change (p. 118). The peripheral route, however,
requires much less cognitive investment. Rather than being connected with the quality of the
message’s content, persuasion via the peripheral route is associated with the environment
within which the message is presented (p. 116). Here, external factors such as positive
reinforcement and source characteristics are more apt to generate behavioral intent. Notably,
following criticism of the ELM’s initial postulation that central and peripheral processes exist in
the binary, the creators of the theory have since adjusted their approach to acknowledge that
these paths may co-exist in the minds of the audience processing the message (Stiff and
Mongeau, 2016, p. 122)
Target Audience
To strike at the core of the issue, the campaign will deliberately tailor its design and
messaging for users at the highest risk of sharing fake news. Fortunately, current research
paints a detailed picture of this audience. Demographically, individuals susceptible to social
media conspiracies are more likely to be older and ideologically conservative with limited
educational attainment and frequent political engagement within nondiverse online social
networks (Min, 2021, pp. 422-420). Those in this demographic with high rates of political
extremism are particularly inclined to share social media conspiracies (Boutyline and Willer,
2016, pp. 562-565). Medically, these users are more likely to suffer from chronic, comorbid
conditions such as hearing loss and a decline in visual acuity due to their age (World Health
Organization, 2021). These physical symptoms are often accompanied by high rates of social
isolation and depression and exacerbated by feelings of anger, fear, and distress (American
Psychological Association, 2017). Psychologically, they typically have a reduced capacity for
analytical thought and commonly perceive themselves as powerless and lacking control over
their environments (van Prooijen, 2017, p. 53). Their superstitious, sensation-seeking
personalities draw them toward emotionally-intense conspiracies (Graeupner and Coman, 2017;
van Prooijen et al., 2021), which they consume in socially-quarantined environments while
questing to make meaning from the unpredictable nature of the outside world (Graeupner and
Coman, 2017, pp. 219-221).
Attitudes and Behavior
In order to produce the desired behavior of verifying sources before sharing content on
social media, the campaign must first induce two attitude changes in the above audience. Most
obviously, these users must believe that it is necessary to implement the behavior.
Unfortunately, only 38% of respondents to a 2022 survey by the Institute for Public Relations
reported “often” or “always” verifying the sources of information, a nearly 10% drop from
responses in 2019 (Institute for Public Relations, 2022, p. 23). Such lack of action is likely driven
by the individual’s overconfidence in their ability to identify disinformation, with 90% of
participants in a 2021 study by Lyons et al. indicating they consider themselves above average
in their ability to detect fake news (p. 1). These perceptions directly contradicted the results of
the study, however. The researchers found that not only did all participants struggle to identify
fake news headlines, but those who were the most confident in their skills were also the lowest
performers (Lyons et al., 2021, p. 7). These results indicate that the campaign must first change
the audience’s attitudes towards their ability to detect fake news. Only then will they be
prepared to change their attitudes on the importance of verifying their sources and, thus,
develop an intent to perform the requested behavior.
Setting and Channels
These necessities lead to the campaign’s decision to disseminate its messaging via
mass communication, specifically through the use of interactive Facebook advertisements and
the creation of a dedicated resource website. As previously established, Facebook is a lead
contributor to social media users’ exposure to misinformation (Guess et al., 2020, pp. 475-476).
Research also indicates that Facebook is a prime breeding ground for the homogenous echo
chambers that amplify the diffusion of fake news (Del Vicario et al., 2016, p. 558) and that the
site effectively contributes to behavior change via its amplification of social norms (Ridout and
Campbell, 2014). Facebook also allows organizations to create gamified artifacts, which by
nature of their interactivity, lend credibility to their content, spark cognitive processing, and
trigger normative pressure when the user publishes the results to their network (Sundar et al.,
2013, pp. 389-390; 393). These impacts are especially potent if, like the campaign’s target
audience, the individual is a heavy Internet user (Sundar et al., 2013, p. 394).
To promote accessibility among the hearing- and visually-impaired, Facebook provides
scalable font sizes, automatically generates alt text and contextual headings, allows users to
easily navigate using keyboard shortcuts, and instructs developers to include closed captions
with their products (Meta, n.d.-a). Facebook also offers an extensive ability to target ads at
specific audiences (Meta, n.d.-b), as well as a function to let ad producers monitor user
interactions with ad content to continuously track engagement with the campaign (Meta, n.d.-c).
Using these tools, the campaign could conceivably create an accessible, interactive
artifact that allows users to test their ability to detect fake news and subsequently explore a site
that describes the determinants and consequences of sharing misinformation. Thus, the
campaign would temper users’ perceptions of their ability to detect fake news before quickly
turning around to educate them on the importance of preventing its spread and providing them
the resources to do so. These tactics, combined with the social influence stemming from users’
social media sharing of their quiz results and future intent to verify sources, set the campaign up
for success in accomplishing its desired behavior change.
Design Features
The audience’s experience with the Freedom Forum Institute’s (FFI) campaign is divided
into three parts: introduction to the campaign via an interactive Facebook advertisement,
exposure to messaging via exploration of the campaign’s website, and sharing of campaign
materials with their social media networks. During this progression, the campaign will utilize five
primary design features: foot-in-the-door (FITD), message availability, rational appeals,
impression-relevant involvement, and social proof.
The first design feature of the campaign is the “foot-in-the-door” technique, described by
Cialdini (2006) as a tactic of attaining compliance with a smaller task in the interest of achieving
successful persuasion on a larger scale at a later point (p. 55). FITD theory holds that, after
completing this initial task, individuals will moderate their self-perceptions and view themselves
as someone who would comfortably take such action or agree with such beliefs (Freedman and
Fraser, 1966). In the FFI campaign, this design feature takes the form of an interactive
Facebook advertisement that allows users to test their ability to identify fake or misleading news
headlines. After completing the quiz and seeing their results, the individual will be shown a
button labeled “Click here to learn more and take action against fake news.” Clicking the link (or
directing their accessibility software to do so) will then take the users to the campaign’s main
website. Here they can take more quizzes, read about ways to prevent the spread of
misinformation, and practice their skills.
Yet, what will motivate audiences to click this link and proceed to the campaign’s next
step? The answer lies in the theory of cognitive dissonance. As proven by Lyons et al. (2021),
individuals are misconceived about their competency in identifying fake news (p. 7). It follows,
then, that the users’ quiz results will likely be lower than anticipated. Here develops the trench
between the user’s confidence in their acuity and the quiz results staring back at them from the
screen. The campaign posits that the users will want to access the website to resolve this
dissonance-driven discomfort. This action might come from an antagonistic desire to scour the
website for an excuse to invalidate the results’ credibility, or it may be rooted in an anxious
curiosity to find an explanation that would somehow explain the uncomfortable discrepancy.
Whatever the motivation, under the FITD theory, clicking the link creates a commitment to
explore the site further, thus ushering the audience into the campaign’s next phase.
Message Availability
Once the audience reaches the campaign’s main website, they will be exposed to
messages deliberately crafted based on the concept of heuristic availability. These campaign
messages will guide the audience’s decision-making toward completing the desired behavior by
leveraging tropes with existing salience in their minds (Lockton, 2012, pp. 8-9). Upon clicking
the quiz’s link and accessing the site, users will be greeted by a short video featuring real,
demographically-representative individuals describing their own surprise at their inability to
discern fake news. The interviewees will then comment on what they learned from exploring the
campaign, emphasize their newfound understanding of the importance of verifying sources, and
state their intent to always fact-check before sharing articles with their network.
Secondly, abiding by the results of Lockton’s (2012) research on manufacturing
engaging emotional “shortcuts” via engaging interactivity (pp. 9-10), the website will contain
multiple dynamic activities that visually respond to audience inputs. For instance, one activity on
the site might have a mock news page that asks users to select indicators that the source might
be suspect. Each of these items would then disappear after being selected. These activities will
be presented in a “multiple choice” style, assigning each potential answer a unique label with
descriptive alt text. Additionally, to address Lockton’s concerns regarding oversimplification and
lack of profound education (Lockton, 2012, p. 10), correct responses will generate a pop-up
explaining why their answer was correct.
The above tactics should ring familiar bells. Indeed, they describe the wing of the
campaign dedicated to leveraging the ELM’s peripheral processing. From a video featuring
credible and relatable sources to interactions that provide positive reinforcement via cheerful
“dings” and green checkmarks, the campaign’s website is engineered to create a persuasive
environment ripe for audience members who are less inclined to expend their cognitive energy
on the content.
Rational Appeals
However, for many, motivation is driven by content, not context. A fitting compatriot of
central processing sparked by high-quality arguments (Stiff and Mongeau, 2016, p. 118),
persuasive messages comprised of rational appeals typically consist of three elements: a claim,
supporting evidence, and a logical bridge between the two (p. 165). Claims, under the rational
appeal approach, represent the campaign’s held position of advocacy (p. 166). The feature’s
evidentiary component refers to objective, third-party statements, objects, or attitudes that
support this previously-communicated claim (p. 166). Such evidence can come in both statistical
or narrative formats, the former being most effective at inducing belief and attitude change and
the latter frequently finding itself employed to influence behavioral intent (p. 168). Lastly, rational
appeals must provide a warrant establishing a clear and justifiable link between data and
declaration (Stiff and Mongeau, 2016, p. 166).
In its campaign, the FFI claims the importance of individuals taking steps to verify
sources before sharing information on social media. It provides both statistical and narrative
evidence supporting this statement. Stiff and Mongeau (2016) note that statistics are particularly
persuasive when they present quantified information related to an identified group (p. 167).
Thus, after completing quizzes throughout the campaign, users will see both their own scores
and the average scores of all audience members who have taken the test. To account for false
score inflation, only an individual’s first attempt at the quiz will count towards the campaign-wide
average. The campaign’s rational appeals will extend beyond the statistical, however. For
example, the previously-mentioned video represents one aspect of the campaign’s foray into
narrative evidence. As this genre of evidence revolves around the stories of relevant individuals
(Stiff and Mongeau, 2016, p. 167), the proposed video deliberately portrays fellow Facebook
users discussing their personal experiences of attempting to stymie the spread of disinformation
across social media. Finally, the campaign establishes its logical warrant by drawing back the
curtain and revealing to the audience their lack of an innate ability to distinguish the fake from
the legitimate. Should they accept this ineptitude, they must accept, too, that the only remaining
tactic to identify misleading content is to seek its verification independently.
This section began by implying a link between rational appeals and the Elaboration
Likelihood Model. Research supports this conclusion. Indeed, studies have found a high
correlation between evidence and subsequent attitude change (Stiff and Mongeau, 2016, p.
171). Impactful and well-positioned evidence increases audience involvement with the topic of
persuasion, leading to a similarly-boosted motivation to engage with its messaging and
formulate behavioral intent (p. 171). This association speaks directly to the ELM’s description of
the links between issue involvement, motivation, and applied cognitive processing (Stiff and
Mongeau, 2016, p. 116).
Impression-Relevant Involvement
The final design elements used in the campaign are impression-relevance and social
proof. The impression-relevant outcome feature posits that anticipated social consequences
influence behavioral intent (Stiff and Mongeau, 2003, p. 225). Such fear of referent reprimand is
reminiscent of the ELM’s position that individuals base their attitudes on their desire to adhere to
“correct” social norms (p. 116). Contextually, research indicates that despite being socially
excluded (Graeupner and Coman, 2017, pp. 219-221), the campaign’s target audience is also
drawn to homogenous echo-chamber clusters on social media (Del Vicario et al., 2016, p. 558).
Thus, the campaign will accommodate these attributes in its design.
Messages across the campaign’s website will repeatedly frame source-checking as an
admirable trait worthy of emulation. Moreover, the campaign will seek to empower audience
members by stating that fact-checking is a way to exist as a person in control over the
information they consume and who helps cleanse the media environment from uncertainty and
falsehoods. Such messaging addresses the sense of impotence and lack of control that is
characteristic of the target audience (van Prooijen, 2017, pp. 52 – 53). By carefully crafting this
self-perception, the campaign hopes to encourage long-lasting behavior change – a hope
inspired by Cialdini’s (2006) findings on the importance individuals place on maintaining a
consistent self-image through their behavior (p. 45).
Social Proof
Closely linked to impression-relevance is the social proof design component. This design
feature primarily enters at the end of the audience member’s experience with the campaign.
However, it is also present in the introductory video and the frequent reminders that others have
interacted with the site’s content (as conveyed via showing average results at the end of
activities). Pulling again from Cialdini’s (2006) work and harkening once more back to the
tenants of the ELM, the concept of social proof states that individuals look to others in their
social group to determine what attitudes and behaviors are acceptable or correct (p. 88). The
use of social proof will be evident in the campaign’s final request for its audience to share
campaign artifacts and the results of their quizzes with their social media networks. Among
these artifacts will be a “pledge” that the users can sign to express their commitment to fighting
disinformation by checking sources. A “share to Facebook” icon will appear after the user adds
their signature, allowing them to make their commitment public. Such a pledge accomplishes
two objectives. The first speaks to Cialdini’s (2006) statement that outward commitment begets
continued consistency (p. 50). Having proudly stated their intent to their peers, audience
members would be loath to find themselves having shared easily-disproven misinformation in
the future.
In essence, the campaign’s implementation of social proof is an attempt to trigger a
“snowball effect” of persuasion. The more individuals who share information about the campaign
to their networks, the wider the net of potential users who may decide to take the initial quiz and
allow the campaign to place its foot through their cognitive doorframes. These users will then
progress through the campaign themselves, ultimately sharing their commitments with their own
networks. The more saturated the audience’s echo chambers become with these
endorsements, the more the behavior is normalized, and a positive attitude toward verifying
sources becomes the “correct” one to hold.
Ethical Considerations
This brief would be remiss not to discuss the ethical considerations inherent in the
chosen design features, especially given the campaign’s audience. Indeed, these individuals
have been identified and targeted explicitly for their predisposition to manipulation, leaving
ample room for ethical misconduct by unscrupulous persuaders.
As discussed, this is a socially excluded audience who feels powerless and trapped
within a world they cannot control (Graeupner and Coman, 2017, pp. 219-221; van Prooijen,
2017, pp. 52 – 53). This perceived world is not a kind one; rather, it is a place filled with
malevolent conspiracies of social horrors and tragedies covered up by the machinations of
shadowy deep-state cabals (Sunstein and Vermeule, 2009, p. 205). Thus, it is paramount that
no campaign element plays into this paranoia. Beyond the risk of psychological harm, excessive
feelings of depression and distress exacerbate the physical health concerns of the age
demographic of the targeted audience (American Psychological Association, 2017).
Acknowledging this, the campaign will not mention the concept of weaponized disinformation or
reference politically-destabilizing misinformation campaigns by foreign governments. Any
manufactured headlines in quizzes or activities will use non-controversial topics such as retail
marketing, product reviews, or animal welfare fundraising. While some artifacts will need to
touch on political topics in the interest of inoculating against real-world exposure, this content
will be limited to references to hypothetical mayoral or local council elections with no description
of political affiliations.
The campaign will also place a high priority on transparency. At no point should the
audience be in doubt of the campaign’s sponsor. The FFI’s logo will be prominent on all
artifacts, including the interactive introduction to the campaign. The campaign’s website will use
the FFI’s clean, non-threatening brand colors of blue and white, though users will be able to
adjust these to account for any visual acuity needs or potential migraine triggers.
In summary, the campaign’s messaging will convey the benefits of performing the behavior, not
the consequences of abstinence. Its skill-based learning approach is rooted in the Freedom
Forum Institute’s education-focused mission of developing media literacy skills while cultivating
understandings of how information flows from media to public (Freedom Forum Institute,
n.d.). At its core, the campaign is one of empowerment – one that seeks to replace an audience
member’s perceptions of helplessness with feelings of confidence in their ability to successfully
navigate and lead others through the modern media landscape.
Summary and Next Steps
The FFI’s source-checking campaign will guide users through interactive, accessible
content that balances rational argument with heuristic availability by leveraging the theoretical
constructs of cognitive dissonance and the Elaboration Likelihood Model. Further, the campaign
will make use of the inherent psychological value that humans place on peer approval and
positive referent impressions, driving continued interaction with the campaign and invoking
positive attitudes toward the desired behavior by leveraging the social influence of the
Functional implementation can begin once the campaign receives official approval from
its decision-making stakeholders. The campaign will hire web developers and graphic designers
to construct the websites and interactions, while those on the marketing team negotiate with
Facebook to secure ad space while adhering to budgetary constraints. Before the official
launch, campaign management should conduct a focus group with a smaller audience sample
and hire an outside consulting firm (or leverage the board of ethics of a local university) for a
third-party assessment of any ethical and legal considerations. Potentially, the focus group
participants may be used as the interviewees for the campaign’s introductory video.
This brief has provided a high-level proposal for a persuasive communication campaign
aimed at motivating conspiracy-predisposed Facebook users to verify sources before sharing
articles with their social media networks. To do so, it will first moderate audience attitudes
regarding their capability to identify fake news. Once the likely dissonance between perception
and skill (Lyons et al., 2021, p. 7) is established, the campaign will then engender positive
attitudes toward the necessity of fact-checking and critical analysis. These two attitudinal
adjustments, the campaign holds, will then serve as conduits that lead audience members to
implement the desired behavior change.
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