I used to smoke and when I was starting to quit, these types of cigarette packages were coming out in Canada and they did bother me. They did have some impact on discouraging me from smoking and encouraging me to quit. There was a lot of key factors that were going on – the cost of cigarettes was going up I was more aware of the health risks. There was a lot of shifts that were going on.


Health Hazards of Smoking Cigarettes. Photo Credits: www.beautyprog.com

This package alone wasn’t the only reason that made me quit. But it makes me question why there are still people smoking when they are constantly being bombarded with a lot of these extremely negative images that are reinforcing all of the bad things that can happen – horrible teeth, wrinkled skin and thinking in terms of how bad it can be for someone who is smoking.

Yet there are many people that are still smoking. It begs the question: Is this going to be the solution to address everyone to stop smoking? If people are still smoking, when there are constantly being bombarded with these images, it makes me think that there’s something else going on.

The other side of the coin is this Australian campaign that looks at the positive aspects and the benefits of quitting. Someone’s going to have an extra $4400 a year if they quit smoking. That’s focusing on the positive. There are positive campaigns out there that try to encourage people to quit smoking. However, when those are used, not everybody quit smoking. There’s a tendency for us to look at the negative consequences and the positive consequences of quitting smoking.

That is one of the reasons why I found Heidi Grant Halvorson’s book on ‘Focus’ which is extremely powerful. Her research and the research of others indicates that people have two primary focuses and the focus can either be on prevention or promotion.


Focus will help you see not just what’s going on around you— but what’s underneath. Photo credit: www.lvsconsulting.com

So let’s go back to some of these negative images.

Someone who is prevention focused will be impacted by these negative images because they’re thinking about the negative consequences of smoking and that can have a better impact.

Also Read : Promotion for Prevention Focus (Part 2)

The positive will have a better impact on the people that are promotion-focused. The problem becomes is when you focus on either the prevention message or more of the promotion message. You are missing potentially half of the population. The people who have the prevention focus or the promotion focus, depending on what is the focus of your campaign – which in my mind totally fit because when I was working in farm safety, the idea was always thinking in terms of ‘Should we be prevention focused or promotion focused? What is going to have the biggest impact?’ When you’re putting something out there, you have to pick sides. The challenge was which one to pick. Based on Heidi’s research and the research of others in that she described in her book ‘Focus’, either one is going to work. It depends on the focus of the person that’s receiving the message.

So someone who’s promotion focused is about maximizing gains and avoiding missed opportunities. $4400 in extra income or extra spending money if they quit smoking is a promotion focused message. A prevention focus message, on the other hand, is about minimizing losses. You don’t want to have a negative consequence of having cancer because you are smoking and that’s going to have a negative impact on you.

All of the negative messaging is going to have a better impact on the prevention focus people. When she was looking at all of the different aspects of whether or not someone is either promotion or prevention focused, you can help modify the message and have it so that it can fit with the target audience or you can work in two messages so you’re not just focusing on the prevention message but you’re also providing information about the promotion. You’re balancing those off and the people who are promotion focused will pick up on the promotion aspect while the people who are prevention focused will hear more about the prevention message.

A key factor in targeting your audience and understanding their motivation is trying to understand what their focus is. This is something that you can try to interpret based on what you think motivates them. Are they interested more in the goal or are they interested more in the negative consequences or avoiding the negative consequences so they want to achieve their goal that way? Ideally, if you were talking to someone one-on-one, you would want try to find their focus. You would want to craft a message that fits the focus that that person is going to have and deliver the message so that it is going to have a maximum benefit.

You can always do that when you are trying to communicate. You can always deliver one message to one person. The challenge comes when you need to craft a message that is going to have a promotion focus and a prevention focus so that regardless of who is receiving the message, it will still have that maximum impact on changing their behavior.

Identify their focus. It will be a key factor in identifying the best way to reinforce the right behavior.

So again let’s look at promotion focused and prevention focused and some characteristics that they have a tendency to have and see if you can have someone fit into either one of those categories. Do they work quickly? Do they consider a lot of the alternatives? Do they tend to have a rosy outlook? Do they deal better with positive feedback? Do they have a tendency to be happy or sad?


Difference between Promotion-focused people and Prevention-focused people. Photo credit: www.slideshare.net

Prevention focused people are more concerned about avoiding mistakes. There’s a tendency for them to work more slowly and deliberately because the whole point is to avoid the mistake. They want to avoid the negative consequences. They tend to be more prepared. They are stressed by short deadlines because they feel that there’s a much greater risk of things going wrong and they won’t be able to potentially deal with that. They are going to stick to ways of doing things that they’ve always done because doing something different has an element of risk. Risk is something that should be avoided and minimized. They are uncomfortable with praise or optimism and they have a tendency to feel worried or relieved.