Social Impact of National Crime Prevention Campaign
The use of mass media to promote more active citizen involvement in
reducing crime and illicit drug use has emerged as a major component of
criminal justice policy (Lab, 1988; Heinzelmann, 1987;
O'Keefe, 1990; Rosenbaum, 1988; Gurette,1992). Countless state and community-wide
publicity campaigns have been inaugurated, as have coordinated national
efforts such as the National Citizens' Crime Prevention Campaign, Crime
Stoppers, and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. This
trend follows implementation of a wide range of public information
campaigns and other promotional efforts in recent years dealing with various
social welfare and health-related topics (Rice and Atkin, 1989; Salmon,
Public Information Campaigns
Information campaigns in general: (1) intend "to generate specific
outcomes or effects (2) in a relatively large number of individuals, (3)
usually within a specified period of time and (4) through an organized
set of communication activities" (Rogers and Storey, 1987, p.821).
Although public information campaigns share common interests in informing
and influencing the citizenry, they often go about the job in widely varying
ways, depending upon the type of problem or issue being addressed and the
specific campaign objectives (Paisley, 1989). Other factors affecting campaign
strategies include the characteristics of the target audiences and the
time and money available for the effort (O'Keefe and Reid, 1990). Most
projects attempt to combine public information or media publicity
campaigns with community participation and training activities (Flora et
al., 1989). Media tend to be more effective at building citizen awareness
of an issue, and more direct forms of citizen contact and intervention
are apt to generate complex attitudinal or behavioral changes (Rogers
and Storey, 1987).
The development of successful informational and promotional programs
in crime prevention and other issue areas remains part art, part science.
Even the more well-wrought efforts depend upon diverse and often scattershot
approaches for reaching their audiences (Grunig, 1989; Salmon, 1989). Equally
important, it is typically difficult to evaluate whether the programs have
achieved their goals. The criteria for success or failure of these campaigns
are often vague. Although more formal evaluations are increasing, they
tend to be of low order scientific validity. Tight experimental controls
are seldom used, largely because of the cost and complexity of implementing
them in "naturalistic" field situations. Even when statistically
significant findings are obtained under reasonably controlled conditions,
questions often arise concerning how generalizable the results are to larger
populations, and whether the program was cost and/or effort efficient.
Crime prevention campaigns pose special problems in their own right.
Much of the activity referred to as crime and illicit drug use prevention
fit under the umbrella of what Weinstein (1987) calls self-protective behavior.
This construct also encompasses anticipatory reactions to many health risks
as well as natural and occupational hazards. In identifying the key predictor
variables in precautionary behaviors, Weinstein includes beliefs about
the probability and severity of the harm, the efficacy of a precautionary
action, and the cost of taking action. Persuading people to increase such
actions can be difficult, in part because of complex interactions among
the above factors, especially in crime-related situations (Lavrakas et
Also, as Rogers and Storey (1987) note, programs advocating the adoption
of behaviors to help prevent a possible unpleasant experience in the future
tend to be less successful than those offering more timely and obvious
rewards. A useful distinction may also be made between the kinds of measures
persons are willing to take on a onetime initiative basis, and behaviors
that need to be sustained, perhaps over a lifetime. As in the case of health
protection actions, the motives for each type maybe somewhat different.
Adding to the problem is that the salience of crime and drug abuse and
the perceived efficacy of preventive behaviors vary considerably across
social class, geographic locale, and other demographic boundaries (Rosenbaum,
1988; Lavrakas and Bennett, 1988; Greenberg, 1987; O'Keefe and Reid-Nash,
1987). (Such variations can be found with health issues, traffic safety
and other societal concerns, but for crime the differentiation are typically
more visible to the average citizen and are readily documented in crime
rate figures.) This heterogeneity across citizen groups calls for better
care and effort in targeting messages to specific subgroups for greater
Public Service Advertising
Public service advertising has become a significant vehicle through
which large portions of campaign content are communicated to the public.
In brief, PSAs are promotional materials that address problems assumed
to be of general concern to most citizens. PSA's typically attempt to increase
public awareness of such problems and their possible solutions. In many
instances, they also try to influence public beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors
concerning those problems (sometimes with unrealistic expectations). Most
PSAs emanate from not-for-profit or governmental organizations and receive
gratis placement in broadcast and print media.
PSAs reflect the individual concerns of their sponsors. The last significant
content analyses of televised PSAs during the 1970s indicated that nearly
one-hall of them dealt with health or personal safety topics, including
alcohol and drug abuse, preventive health care, traffic safety, nutrition,
and the like (Hanneman et al., 1973; Paletz et al., 1977). Other topics
included environmental concerns, community services, educational and occupational
opportunities, consumer issues, volunteer recruitment, and general humanitarian
concerns. The vast majority of the ads offered informative and in some
cases persuasive messages, with a smaller number being fundraising appeals.
Governmental agencies were responsible for about one-fourth of all PSAs.
A more recent study of television public service directors indicates
that their main choices of PSA content areas included alcohol and drug
abuse, drunk driving, missing children, child abuse, and such health concerns
as cancer and diabetes (Needham Porter Novelli, 1985). This finding in
part possibly reflects a national campaign under way for the past 2 years
by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) aimed at public education
on substance abuse, particularly as related to driving habits. NAB studies
have indicated that nearly 100 percent of television and radio stations
carried alcohol-related PSA's during 198~5 (NAB 1984, 1985).
Media organizations donate the space and time for PSA presentations.
Those PSAs warranting free media placement are ordinarily relegated to
status behind regular paid ads or commercials and often are apt to appear
only as space or time becomes available. Televised PSAs, for example,
have traditionally run during lesser watched dayparts (although in doing
so some may well reach their appropriate target audiences, e.g., children
or teenagers). Hanneman et al. found that in the early 1970s nearly two-thirds
of all televised PSAs ran between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on weekdays.
However, there are recent indications of a more favorable time distribution
being allocated to at least certain kinds of PSAs. During 1985, for example,
the American Broadcasting Company carried more than 1,000 PSAs related
to alcohol and drug abuse, with 47 percent of those being shown during
prime time (32 percent were shown during daytime, and 21 percent late at
night) (ABC, 1986).
Competition among PSA sponsors for media placement is heavy, and many
of the ads fail to be effectively distributed to consumers. Although precise
data are unavailable, competition among PSA producers for placement appears
to have increased substantially over the years. Also, broadcast advertising
has become more "cluttered" with increased emphasis on more frequent
spots of shorter duration.
The dissemination of any particular PSA is at the discretion of the
network, station, or publication management. In addition, content and stylistic
and production factors can influence decisions on whether to present it,
and if so, when and where (McGowan, 1980).
Most of the television public affairs directors surveyed by Needham
Porter Novelli (1985) indicated that the local impact or relevance of the
spot was a major factor (perhaps the most important factor), followed respectively
by subject matter and technical quality. Providing a local identification
tag with the PSA was deemed a strong asset. Contact by a local organization
promoting the PSA was likewise seen as a plus. Also the one or two inch
videotape format had a greater effect than 16 mm film. Most PSAs have
about a 3- to 6-month life span, and "freshness" or novelty is
often a factor in media acceptance.
Comparable data on PSA placement on radio and in newspapers and magazines
are unavailable. Information on outdoor advertising is unavailable as well.
One suspects that such attributes as subject matter, quality, and local
relevance remain critical to PSA use by these media. However, message formats
and audience targeting factors obviously differ from medium to medium.
More research on such variations would be useful.
O'Keefe and Reid (1990) found that the public is fairly attentive to
PSAs, especially over television, and people have generally favorable
reactions to them. However, evaluation of the impact of specific media
campaigns is difficult because PSAs often form only one component of larger
media or community campaigns. Evaluations carried out during the 1940s
and 1950s suggested that public information campaigns - as well as mass
media in general - had minimal effects on public beliefs, attitudes, and
especially behaviors (Klapper, 1960). By the early 1970s, however, some
evidence began to indicate otherwise. More importantly, increasingly sophisticated
research methods allowed closer examination of the situations and conditions
under which successful campaigns would be more likely to occur (Douglas,
Westley, and Chaflee, 1970; Flay, 1986).
Some recent campaign successes involving PSAs have been found in the
areas of mental health (Douglas, Westley, and Chaftee, 1970; Schanie and
Sundel, 1978), pesticide use (Salcedo et al, 1974), smoking cessation (Warner,
1977), heart disease risk prevention (Flora et a., 1988), colon cancer
testing (ARC, 1991), and crime prevention (O'Keefe, 1985, 1986). There
are also indications that children can learn information from certain types
of PSA's (Roberts et al., 1979).
O'Keefe and Reid (1990) conclude that campaigns in general appear more
likely to succeed if they incorporate theoretical models of communication
or persuasion into their development. The more effective campaigns made
extensive use of commercial advertising planning principles in their design
and execution. Formative research, audience segmentation, and pretesting
appear as key ingredients. Clearly delineated campaign goals and measurement
objectives are also highly important.
O'Keefe and Reid also imply that the effectiveness of PSAs is also
highly dependent upon the extent of their dissemination by broadcast and
print media, and such activity has shown a recent increase in some topic
areas. The technical quality of PSAs is a clear factor in their success,
as is their local community appeal. PSAs also are generally more effective
when tied to more extensive campaigns, and/or when they ride on a wave
of ongoing public opinion or concern. Furthermore, PSAs are likely to
be more effective when they provide information about topics most people
already generally agree upon. Also, they are more effective if their design
considers not only existing awareness, attitudes, and behaviors of the
target audience with respect to the topic, but audience communication preferences
and behaviors as well (O'Keefe, 1986). The extent to which most PSA-oriented
campaigns meet the above criteria - and thus their effectiveness - is quite
open to question. As was noted earlier for public information campaigns
in general, the time, expense, and effort involved in carrying out valid
evaluations of these campaigns is typically prohibitive for most PSA efforts.