2013-Kerrie Bertele

Effects of Model Facial Expression & BMI in Health Advertising on Consumer Intent to Achieve Health Goals: An Eye-Tracking Study

Dr Kerrie Bertele, University of Hertfordshire 

Dr Ariadne Kapetanaki, University of Hertfordshire  

Dr Paul Connell, Stoneybrook University  


Globally, an estimated 1.46 billion adults are overweight and 502 million are obese (Swinburn et al. 2011). People with excess weight are prone to getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers (Flegal at al. 2007). Obesity can also affect individuals’ self-esteem and mental health (Krishen and Worthen 2011). Social marketing campaigns that include mass media advertising to promote healthy eating are among the initiatives proposed by the World Health Organisation in their portfolio of actions to tackle obesity (WHO/Europe, 2008). In this vein, developed countries have allocated significant budgets to promote healthy eating behaviours through advertising. Despite the huge public spending on programs and campaigns to enhance healthy eating behaviors, obesity rates reflect citizen’s persistence in making unhealthy choices. The prevalence of obesity is continually increasing and despite public expenditure to tackle the problem “no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years” (Ng et al. 2014).  

Limited research examines the role of advertising promoting healthy eating. Effective antismoking advertising has received substantial attention, focusing on the message valence and intensity (Reardon et al. 2006), the use of graphic images (Andrews et al. 2014) and the effectiveness of message themes (Pechmann et al. 2003). The relationship between advertising and obesity has also been heavily studied, but the focus has been on the impact of food advertising on rising obesity levels (Beales and Kulick 2013), particularly of advertising targeted at children (Harker, Harker and Burns 2007). Some notable exceptions examining effective health campaigns include Kees, Burton and Tangari’s (2010) investigation of the role of temporal framing on consumer’s health goals. The aim of this research is to identify the optimal portrayal of models in health advertising in order to enhance health advertising effectiveness. Attentional avoidance is an effective defense against emotive, distressing or threatening stimuli, and reduces accessibility of the message (Hansen, Hansen and Shantz, 1992) and ad persuasiveness (Keller and Block 1997), therefore capturing consumer attention is an important goal of health advertisers.  

This project involves two eye-tracking experiments: Study 1 considers the direct impact of model facial expression (Serious x Fake Smile x Duchenne Smile) on the consumer attention and intent to diet, and questions whether this is mediated by visual attention to the advertisement. The second study investigates the interaction of facial expression x BMI. Participant hunger, gender, their BMI and self-esteem are controlled. Self-esteem is often linked with body image satisfaction; lower self-esteem is related to higher levels of body image dissatisfaction (Krishen and Worthen 2011). Those with higher body image dissatisfaction are more likely to want to change their body, and may be more influenced by the experiment stimuli. The findings are aimed at informing effective advertisements to enhance consumer intent to eat healthily. If every adult reduces their BMI by just 1%, about 100,000 new cases of cancer would be prevented (National Cancer Institute, 2012). Small steps taken to address obesity can therefore have an important impact.