Abstract: The Effect of Emotions in Merck’s “Did You Know” PSA on College Students’ Attitudes and Intentions toward HPV Vaccination, Policies and Prosocial Behaviors

◆ Kimberly Walker, University of South Florida
◆ Ammina Kothari, Rochester Institute of Technology

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) that can result in genital warts and cancer (Centers for Disease Control, 2019). The HPV vaccine has been available in the U.S. since 2006 and is a primary prevention method of HPV-related cancers (Centers for Disease Control, 2019). Due to the preventable nature of HPV-related cancers, public health practitioners have tried to educate the public via health campaigns about how to vaccinate, yet vaccination rates remain low (Blasi, King & Henrikson, 2015). A reason for failure is that the campaigns can create unintended effects that manifest in multiple dimensions, including those related to audience types and valence (Cho & Salmon, 2006; Wakefield, Loken & Hornik, 2010).
This study combines health communication, mass communication and public health scholarship to assess the impact of the Merck campaign “Did You Know,” a series of emotionally evocative public service announcements (PSA) about HPV vaccination, for its emotional impacts on an unintended but relevant audience—college students. College students are in the HPV vaccination “catch up” age range, meaning they are still recommended for a 3-dose vaccination to prevent HPV-related cancers. This demographic is also the prime consumer of the after-hours ad, and hence, an unintended audience of the campaign targeted toward their parents. Discrete emotion theory was applied to focus on identifying prominent positive and negative discrete emotions evoked from viewing the ad and to discern their differences in ability to predict attitudes and intentions toward HPV vaccination, policies and prosocial behaviors.
Using survey methodology, a sample of 263 undergraduate students from a large southern public university were asked to answer sociodemographic questions before being directed to watch the 60 second PSA “Did You Know.” Subjects then completed a questionnaire rating their emotional responses to the ad, and their opinions about HPV policy and prosocial behaviors as well as attitudes and intentions toward the HPV vaccine. We used descriptive statistics and hierarchical regression controlling for demographics to explore links between emotions and outcome variables.
Preliminary Results
Results showed all six emotions were present from viewing the PSA. Positive emotions of compassion and hope predicted more rigorous HPV policy acceptance, intentions toward prosocial behaviors and attitudes toward HPV vaccination beyond control variables. Negative emotions did not predict outcome variables, and neither demographics nor emotions predicted intentions to vaccinate among those not already vaccinated.
Results replicate emerging literature showing that multiple emotions can stem from viewing health campaigns. Further, as found in recent scholarship with other health behaviors, positive emotions may have the ability to shape attitudes and policy decisions about HPV vaccination. Health campaigns should consider emotions aside from fear and clearly delineate all relevant target markets when developing HPV vaccination campaigns.