Black Culture,  Diversity Awareness,  Oswego Coursework

The PSA and the Power of Emotion

Harnessing Emotions for Change

I chose a public service announcement (PSA) on lung cancer screening for this assignment because I recently lost someone dear to me to lung cancer. The fact that she left behind a 16-year-old son made it even worse for me. One of my worst fears is passing away before my own son reaches full adulthood. Despite not being a smoker myself, the video resonated with me because of the loss of my friend (less than two weeks prior to writing this).

Initially I was going to choose something less personal, but I still went with it because of the emotional connection I have with this PSA and how this aligns with Dillard and Peck’s emphasis on emotions in their 2000 study.

The Ad Council

The Ad Council is a non-profit organization which brings storytellers together with a mission to “educate, unite, and uplift” society. Their goal is to ‘open hearts, inspire action, and accelerate change’. By harnessing the power of compelling narratives, the Ad Council helps to create a world where knowledge is accessible, communities are united, and barriers are dismantled. Through these efforts, they help to foster a society where each person has the opportunity to thrive, ensuring a brighter and more inclusive future for all.

Emotions and the PSA

This powerful PSA centers around a woman’s journey to quit smoking and emphasizes early detection of lung cancer. Through the lens of Dillard and Peck’s 2000 study on affect and persuasion, we can analyze how this PSA effectively utilizes emotional appeals and highlights the life-saving potential of early detection.

Dillard and Peck’s study emphasized the persuasive power of emotions in shaping attitudes and behavioral intentions. This PSA harnesses emotional appeals by showcasing the woman’s triumph over smoking. Her success becomes an inspiration for viewers, evoking positive emotions such as hope and empowerment. By witnessing her journey, individuals are encouraged to believe in their own ability to make positive changes and quit smoking for themselves regardless of the frustration (with nicotine patches) and temptations (the friend offering a cigarette).

Photo of CT scan machine.
CAT scan” by Muffet is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The PSA takes it a step further by urging viewers to get scanned for lung cancer, stating, “you’ve done the hard part, and now do the easy part and get scanned for lung cancer.” This messaging aligns with Dillard and Peck’s research on fear appeals. By presenting smoking cessation as a challenging task and getting scanned as a simpler task, the PSA aims to instill confidence and motivation in viewers. It suggests that taking proactive measures, such as getting screened, can be less daunting than overcoming the addiction to cigarettes.

Through the combination of emotional appeals, the emphasis on early detection, and fear appeals, this PSA successfully aligns with Dillard and Peck’s research. By highlighting the woman’s journey to quit smoking and emphasizing the importance of early detection for lung cancer, the PSA effectively engages viewers and motivates them to take action.

This PSA exemplifies the power of emotional appeals and the significance of early detection. Through Dillard and Peck’s lens, we can recognize how the PSA effectively employs emotional appeals to inspire viewers, reinforces the importance of early detection, and ultimately encourages positive behavioral change. By recognizing the impact of emotions, the lasting impact of the PSA is the emphasis on the importance of early detection.

The PSA as a Media Entity

Analyzing this PSA through the lens of various communication theories, we see that these theories were put into practice. More specifically I will look use; cultivation theory, transportation theory, social responsibility theory and the theory of media affordances & limitations to demonstrate insights from a variety of communication perspectives.

Photo of partial book cover labeled in theory and practice.
Design in Theory and Practice” by Double–M is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

  • Cultivation Theory: This PSA helps shape viewer perception in relation to health-related beliefs and attitudes. By presenting a positive narrative of successful smoking cessation and the importance of early detection, the PSA aims to shape viewers’ perceptions and behaviors related to smoking and to lung cancer prevention.

  • Social Responsibility Theory: This (and a majority of PSAs in general) align with the principles of social responsibility theory. This PSA demonstrates a commitment to public health and well-being by addressing a significant health issue. By encouraging viewers to quit smoking and to get screened, the PSA aims to fulfill the Ad Council’s social responsibility of disseminating accurate information and promoting positive behaviors. The emphasis on early detection underscores the importance of individual and collective responsibility in saving lives.

  • Transportation Theory: The video has the potential to engage viewers in a way that they become immersed in the narrative and emotionally connected to the woman’s journey. By showing her struggles and ultimate success in quitting smoking, the video transports viewers into her story, making it more impactful and memorable. Overall, the video demonstrates the use of transportation theory to create a compelling and persuasive narrative that captures viewers’ attention and encourages them to take action and get scanned.

  • Media Affordances & Limitations: This PSA capitalizes on the affordances of online streaming, utilizing visual storytelling and the emotional appeal to captivate and engage viewers. The concise messaging and clear call to action overcome the limitations of online platforms which can include potential short attention spans and distractions. Another construct of limitation in this context can include the fact that the PSA did not focus on a broader topic. The ultimate focus of the PSA was early detection (and not necessary smoking cessation). By using an online streaming medium, the PSA leveraged the power of a personal narrative and emphasized the life-saving benefits of early detection to communicate how important it is get screened for lung cancer (even if you have already quit).

In summary, the PSA incorporates various communication theories to effectively convey its message. It utilizes relatable experiences, appeals to perceived benefits, employs emotional engagement, and frames the message positively. Through the lenses of these theories, the PSA aims to persuade viewers to quit smoking and seek early detection for lung cancer, ultimately promoting positive health behaviors.


The power of emotional appeal in communication is evident in this thought provoking PSA centered around smoking cessation and early detection of lung cancer. By harnessing emotions and incorporating various communication theories, the PSA effectively engages viewers, shapes perceptions, and motivates positive behavioral change. Through storytelling and a call to action, it emphasizes the importance of individual and collective responsibility to promote healthy behavior and to save lives. The PSA serves as a testament to the significant impact of emotions and of strategic communication to drive social change.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in further readings on emotional responses to public service announcements and communication theories, here are some suggestions:

  1. “Persuasion: Social Influence and Compliance Gaining” by Robert H. Gass and John S. Seiter – This comprehensive book delves into various theories and strategies of persuasion, including emotional appeals and the role of emotions in communication.
  2. “Emotion and Reason in Consumer Behavior” by Arjun Chaudhuri and Morris B. Holbrook – This book examines the interplay between emotions and consumer behavior, offering insights into how emotional responses influence decision-making processes.
  3. “The Dynamics of Persuasion: Communication and Attitudes in the 21st Century” by Richard M. Perloff – This text explores the intricacies of persuasion and attitude change, discussing the role of emotions, cognitive processes, and communication strategies in shaping beliefs and behaviors.

You can also check academic journals, such as the Journal of Consumer Research, and Communication Research, for relevant studies and articles.


Dillard, J. P., & Peck, E. (2000). Affect and Persuasion: Emotional Responses to Public Service Announcements. Communication Research, 27, 461–495.

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