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Health Commun. 2006;20(1):1-11.

Are "drink responsibly" alcohol campaigns strategically ambiguous?

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Department of Communication, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.


This article applies the concept of strategic ambiguity in examining viewer responses to brewer-sponsored "responsible drinking" television advertising campaigns. Strategically ambiguous messages are designed to engender diverse interpretations between varied audience segments, and these different selective perceptions should translate into relatively uniform positive corporate images. In this study, teenage and young adult respondents were shown a series of television spots from two leading alcohol companies. As predicted, there was a high degree of diversity in meanings of message content and campaign purpose derived by viewers, particularly among less sophisticated teenagers. Moreover, evaluative ratings of messages and sponsors were generally favorable and more uniform than interpretive responses. The research demonstrates how seemingly prohealth messages can serve to subtly advance both industry sales and public relations interests.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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