Challenging Dogma - Spring 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

“Over the Limit. Under Arrest.” Campaign Commercial: Sending All the Wrong Signals Through the Health Belief Model – Shrina Patel


Every 30 minutes someone in America dies because of an impaired driver, and every two minutes someone in America gets injured because of an impaired driver (1). Thus, drunk driving is clearly a national public health concern that needs to be dealt with. One campaign that attempts to address this issue is the “Over the limit. Under arrest” campaign, presented by the Impaired Driving Division of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. During this campaign, a television advertisement was widely utilized. The commercial starts off by showing middle-aged men driving alone in a car that is physically filled with alcohol. Then, a voice-over says, “There’s no way to hide. If you drive drunk, we will find you.” Then, the ‘drunk driver’ gets pulled over by a policeman who asks, “Sir, have you been drinking tonight?” Finally, the ad shows the cop arresting the man, while the voice-over states, “Make no mistake, you will get caught, and you will be arrested. Over the limit. Under arrest” (2).

This campaign utilized the Health Belief Model, which is a traditional model. This theory can be visualized as the following:

There are four factors that this model focuses on to solicit a behavior: perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, perceived benefits of action, and perceived barriers of taking action. The individual’s perceived susceptibility refers to how prone an individual thinks s/he is to a consequence. The individual’s perceived severity refers to how much an individual thinks s/he would be affected by the consequence. Based on the Health Belief Model, both perceived susceptibility and perceived severity influence the individual’s perceived benefits, or advantages of taking action. The perceived benefits are then weighed against the perceived barriers, or the disadvantages of taking action. Based on this comparison, the individual will deduce an intention, and subsequently either perform the behavior or not (3). For a quite a few reasons, The “Over the Limit. Under Arrest” campaign, which is modeled after the Health Belief Model, has downfalls that hinder it from being a successful public health advertisement.

Argument 1

First of all, the model that this campaign uses has major weaknesses, which become the weaknesses of the “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” advertisement. For example, the Health Belief Model assumes that people are rational (4). It does so by claiming that people are able to balance their perceived benefits and perceived barriers in order to come to an intention. In other words, the commercial assumes that because the voice-over says if you drink and the drive, then you will get caught, that people will actually decide to abstain from drinking and driving. More specifically, the fact that the commercial states drunk drivers will definitely get caught targets the individual’s perceived susceptibility. This is because it is making the viewers believe that the chance of getting caught drunk driving is high. Then, when the commercial states that drunk drivers will be arrested and prosecuted, it is attempting to target the individual’s perceived severity because being taken to jail is quite a severe consequence. In reality, though, people do not logically weight the severity and susceptibility of getting caught drunk driving against simply not drunk driving; the public will not act the ‘right’ or expected way simply because they are given information about the consequences of a potential behavior. In fact, utilizing threats or consequences in order to motivate individuals is usually very ineffective, so this method of persuasion will not be successful in changing behavior (5). Thus, the public does not respond as expected when it is assumed that they are rational and when fear-based campaigns are used to stimulate a specific behavior. So, it is essentially useless when the commercial claims that being over the legal limit will lead to an arrest because it does not have the intended outcome from the general public.

Additionally, there are aspects that the Health Belief Model and this campaign do not take into account that lead to its downfall. For example, this commercial does not provide any alternative options for an individual who already drinks and drives. It provides no motivation or alternatives for people who already commit this crime besides stating the fact that they will be caught, which was already established to be unsuccessful. Thus, the model fails to convince current drunk drivers to stop drunk driving. Similarly, the commercial also does not successfully convince potential drunk drivers to refrain from this action. This is because the Health Behavior Model, and thus this commercial, does not take into consideration the possibility of spontaneous decisions. Drinking and driving is usually an unplanned action, so after an individual has consumed alcohol, they are ultimately making a spontaneous decision while impaired (6). Thus, it is not likely that an intoxicated individual will make a rational decision based on the facts recited in this commercial. Instead, s/he will most likely make a spontaneous decision, which this campaign does not take into account. Therefore, there are both aspects of and missing qualities of the Health Belief Model that contribute to the downfall of the “Over the Limit. Under Arrest” campaign.

Argument 2

The subliminal message in the “Over the Limit. Under Arrest” campaign commercial is stronger than the actual intended message, which ultimately may result in an unwanted action. According to the Health Behavior Model, individuals will balance their perceived barriers and perceived benefits to make a decision. This commercial uses images and words to try to influence these factors by stating that all drunk drivers will be caught and prosecuted. More importantly, though, is the method by which the commercial tries to convince the audience that there are consequences to drinking and driving. In the middle of the commercial, while the drunk drivers are driving their alcohol-filled cars, the voice-over says, “There’s no way to hide. If you drive drunk, we will find you.” But as it turns out, not everybody actually gets caught. Thus, this commercial is essentially stating a lie in order to promote their point, but lying in advertisements can have adverse effects. When the viewers realize that this campaign is blatantly lying, they will no longer listen to the message, but will instead doubt and distrust the entire commercial (7).

Thus, as a result of this distrust, viewers will become skeptical and new ideas can arise about drunk driving. First of all, there is the idea that the consequences of drunk driving, which this commercial is showing, can be overridden by simply avoiding getting caught. So though the ultimate goal of the commercial is to announce that an individual who is drinking and driving will be caught and prosecuted, the method in which the commercial is portrayed may bring about the option of simply avoiding the authorities. Another similar idea that may be a result of this commercial is concluding that since an emphasis is being put on getting arrested if an individual is “over the limit,” then drinking and driving under the legal limit is okay. This, again, is untrue and unsafe because many people who are under the legal limit of 0.8 get arrested for driving while impaired (8). Thus, because this advertisement lies, the general public will probably focus on questioning the legitimacy of the commercial instead of focusing on the main message the campaign is trying to send.

Additionally, the idea of simply avoiding the police that is unintentionally projected by the commercial may particularly appeal to some individuals. In a recent survey, 26% of teenagers say that they have driven drunk before; therefore, this adolescent population is very important to target (9). Unfortunately, this advertisement may instead push adolescents to drink and drive more because it raises the possibility of being rebellious by avoiding the police. Adolescents lean towards rebellious behavior because rebellion is glamorized on our society. The Truth campaign was very successful because it took advantage of the fact that youths want to be rebellious; it portrayed non-smokers as being rebellious while confronting the cigarette industry (10). Unfortunately, this campaign has the opposite effect; rebellious adolescents watching this commercial would go against the main message of this campaign instead of listening to it. Thus, this campaign seems to actually push the public away from the main idea commercial by ineffectively eliciting fear via lies, which ultimately leads to the public modeling an unwanted/dangerous behavior (11).

Argument 3

There is a clear disconnect between the images in this campaign commercial and the actual message that is being projected. In other words, the acting and actors that are utilized in this advertisement are portraying a different image than is intended by the voice-over. The intention of this campaign is to get the public to stop drunk driving. The voice-over helps to do this by saying that drunk drivers with get caught and prosecuted. The actors, on the other hand, bring about a sense of sympathy for the drunk drivers and a dislike for the policemen. The commercial starts by showing three middle aged men, who seem very relatable and mellow during the entire advertisement. Other than showing their cars physically filled with alcohol, the men seem to have done nothing wrong. They are not shown to be abrasive, to have hurt anybody, or to complain in any way at all. Because the image of the drunk driver is set up to be gentle, the audience will potentially feel sympathy for the men when they are arrested. Then, even after the men are arrested, the sympathizing continues. The commercial shows one of the men inside the cop car, and we see him shaking his sad, handsome face. The sympathy that is felt seems odd because these men are potentially harmful. But in addition, to showing the drunk drivers as soft, the fact that they were arrested can also appeal to the public. This is because, in general, the media depicts ‘bad boys’ and getting arrested to be glamorous. For examples, movies such as Fast and the Furious, Bank Job, Italian Job, and Ocean’s Eleven show the main characters going against authority, so this idea has become ‘cool’ and causes the audience to further sympathize with the ‘villain.’ Thus, the middle aged men can be sympathized with on two levels. First, the men are portrayed to be harmless and second, the public has actually been primed to take the side of the villain. Thus, the acting in this commercial does not relate to the ultimate message of the campaign, which sends inconsistent and ineffective mixed signals (12).

In addition to the portrayal of the drunk drivers, the policemen are also portrayed in an unsuccessful way. They are shown as being quite unintelligent. The one line that the cops have is along the lines of, “Sir, have you been drinking tonight?” It is important to keep in mind that the policemen are saying their line while a flood of alcohol is coming out of the drunk driver’s car. It seems idiotic that the officer is asking such a question while gallons of martinis and beer are spewing all over the street. This does not show the policemen in an intelligent manor. Then, without showing any additional interaction between the ‘drunk driver’ and the policeman, the officer puts the man in the cop car. This action, as shown in the commercial, seems harsh and possibly even unethical. Therefore, both the depictions of the drunk drivers and the policemen do not correlate or help with the message that is trying to be portrayed.


In conclusion, though the Health Belief Model has the potential to model a successful public health intervention, the “Over the Limit Under Arrest” campaign did not use this model well. First, this campaign placed a heavy assumption on the public making rational decisions after being given the information that drunk drivers get caught. It also placed a heavy expectation for the public to react to consequences that were recited in the commercial, including being prosecuted if drunk driving occurs. Additionally, the commercial that the campaign utilized sent counterproductive messages, including giving the idea of simply avoiding the police versus avoiding drunk driving. Finally, the images that were shown in the commercial actually produced a sense of sympathy for the drunk drivers and portrayed the policemen as being unintelligent. Thus, the weaknesses of the Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign come both from the model that it used and poor utilization of their commercial. A more productive anti-drunk driving campaign would utilize a non-traditional model and use clear, unmistakable imagery in the commercial.

“Be the Hunk, Don’t Drive Drunk” Campaign: Using the Social Sciences to Create a Successful Anti-Drunk Driving Intervention


Clearly, the Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign is not a productive intervention to stop drunk driving in America. Seeing as how this unsuccessful campaign was one of the most recent and widespread interventions to stop drunk driving in America, a new idea to reduce drunk driving rates in America is desperately necessary. Based on the weaknesses of the Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign, this new intervention should use a more effective behavior change model, should portray a clear message that the audience will unmistakably understand, and should use clear imagery to portray the main message. This can be achieved by utilizing some aspect of social science in order to get the desired result. This has been proved to be successful in public health interventions because it does not simply send a message, but it takes into consideration the audience’s reaction to a message, which is especially important to do if a behavior is trying to be changed. Thus, the new anti-drunk driving intervention will overcome the barriers of the Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign by taking advantage of social science theories.


This new intervention that will be utilized to reduce drunk driving rates in America is called “Be the Hunk, Don’t Drive Drunk.” The basis of this intervention is a television commercial that will be aired nationwide on numerous different channels. The commercial will start off by showing an attractive man in his thirties standing in the foreground of a popular bar. Then, the man asks the question, “Who would you rather be?” Then, the scene goes into the bar, where the same attractive man is shown in trendy clothing flirting with an attractive girl. There will be an arrow that reads “me” pointing to the man. The camera then pans to the other side of a bar where an overweight, older, unattractive man is shown acting belligerently drunk, and unsuccessfully trying to talk to some women. This man will have an arrow pointing to him that reads “him.” Then, the clearly sober attractive man is shown walking out of the bar with the attractive girl towards his sports car. The narrator version of the attractive man looks on from the side with approval. Then the narrator’s focus shifts to the entrance of the bar again where the drunk, unattractive man stumbles out and reaches his old, trashy pickup truck. Again the scene changes to the attractive man who is shown arriving safely at his apartment and helping the girl out of his car. Conversely, the drunk man is shown being helped into a cop car on a dark street with his car crashed into a guardrail in the background. Finally, the attractive man and women walk into the man’s room and close the door. Then, the drunk man walks into a jail cell and the bars are closed behind him. Again, the attractive narrator comes into the frame and repeats the question “Who would you rather be?” The commercial then ends by showing the attractive girl in the attractive man’s bed turning around and saying to the camera, “Be the hunk. Don’t drive drunk.”

Improvement 1

One example of how this new Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk intervention has improved upon the previous Over the Limit Under Arrest intervention is by using a completely different behavior change model. The Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign used the Health Behavior Model, which was described as being unsuccessful for numerous reasons. This new intervention, though, primarily utilizes the Framing Theory. An example of this theory being used successfully is when Marlboro used the Marlboro man to frame smoking as being rebellious and attractive (13). Framing Theory aims to frame or package a certain behavior in a certain way in order the change an entire group’s opinion and behavior. It is an alternative behavior change model that is dependent on portraying core values through the given message. The key aspect of Framing Theory is that it utilizes core values that are specifically important to the target audience. By using core values that are important to the audience, their behavior can be successfully changed (14).

The Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk intervention uses Framing Theory to frame being a drunk driver versus being a sober driver. The sober driver in the commercial is shown to be young, attractive, a ladies’ man, wealthy, and successful. The sober driver was well dressed, had a nice car, a nice apartment, and “got the girl.” Conversely, the drunk driver in the commercial is shown to be unattractive, belligerent, unpopular, and losing his freedom. Thus, the core values that this intervention used were being attractive and suave, being youthful, and having freedom. The advertisement showed that being a sober driver is congruent with all of these core values, and that sober drivers have more fun. These core values were contrasted with the exact opposite ideas, which were shown by the drunk driver; being shunned by women, being unattractive, and losing freedom by being in jail. Thus, the audience will want to achieve these core values of being attractive, suave, youthful, and free by paralleling the actions of the sober driver and avoiding the actions of the drunk driver. So, the Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk intervention successfully uses Framing Theory to appeal to the target audience through core values that are important to the public, including attractiveness, suaveness, youthfulness, and freedom.

Improvement 2

The second problem with the previous Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign was that it sent a strong unintended subliminal message; it gave the audience the idea of simply avoiding the police while drunk driving. The Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk campaign, on the other hand, provides a clear message that the audience will accept. There is no question that the commercial is saying that being a sober driver is much more attractive than being a drunk driver. The way that this new intervention provides a clear message is by understanding and taking into consideration the concept of psychological reactance. Psychological reactance is the idea that people will have a bad reaction when something is taken away from them, and will reject the given behavior (15). The best way to counteract reactance is by using similarities between the deliverer of the message and the recipient of the message. Thus, by being aware of psychological reactance, the negative consequences of reactance can be avoided.

The Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign resulted in an unintended subliminal message because it attempted to take away drunk driving from the audience, thus the audience looked to avoiding the police as an alternative. People do not like being told they can not do something, so when they are told not to drunk drive, they may not listen to the message. Thus, Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk campaign avoids this problem by giving the audience something instead of taking something away; this campaign gives the promise of attractiveness, women, and freedom to sober drivers instead of taking away drunk driving. As a result, this intervention will not have the negative consequences of reactance because the audience will not feel as though they have been told to stop an action; instead, they will feel as through they have been offered great qualities (16). Also, counteracting reactance involves using similarity between the person delivering the message and the recipient of the message. Therefore, the attractive all-American narrator in his young thirties was used to deliver the message. This way, teenage to middle-aged Americans can feel as though they can relate to the narrator, which will result in a more successful outcome. Thus, realizing and counteracting the idea of psychological reactance is a very successful tool that the Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk campaign utilizes in order to send a strong, clear message to the audience.

Improvement 3

The final weakness of the Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign was that it used very ineffective imagery that resulted sympathy for the drunk drivers and showed the policemen as unintelligent. The Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk campaign, though, uses very clear imagery by taking advantage of the ideas of labeling theory. Labeling theory states that once something is labeled, it is stuck with that stigma. Also, once something is given a stigma, it is very difficult to change (17).

The Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign tries to use bad actors in order to portray the message that drunk driving is illegal. Conversely, the Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk intervention uses imagery that takes advantage of stigmas and labels that already exist in society. Then, these labels and stigmas are related to the message of the campaign. For example, the attractive man has many positive labels associated with him, including being an all-American type who wins the girl. Then, these positive labels are associated with his character being sober. Conversely, the stigma against drunk, unpleasant, jail-bound men is used to label the drunk driver in a negative light. Thus, the already-present characteristics of the all-American and the old drunken man are then associated with sober driving and drunk driving, respectively. Therefore, labels for different types of men that are already present in society are connected to either being a drunk or sober driver in order to successfully use imagery to portray a message.


In conclusion, all three of these improvements that the Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk campaign makes on the Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign utilize some aspect of the social sciences. First, Framing Theory appeals to what the audience wants. Being a sober driver probably does not actually make a man attractive, successful, and suave. But using the correct marketing tactics can make the audience think that it will. This is very much an idea of psychology; people are most likely to change their actions if they think they will get something substantial from it. In return for being a sober driver, this intervention offers success, good looks, charm, and wealth, which are core values that are important to the audience. Secondly, the idea of psychological reactance was addressed when creating the new intervention. It is important to be aware of how people will react if you try to take something away from them because that is exactly what this public health intervention is trying to do; it is essentially trying to tell the audience to stop drunk driving. Thus, by realizing that psychology states that people do not react well when they realize something is being taken away from them, the Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk campaign avoids this. Instead of directly telling the audience to stop drunk driving, the commercial asks the audience which they would prefer to be, giving them the option to be an unattractive drunk man or an attractive sober man. The answer is obvious, but this method is more successful because the public will not feel as though they are being told what to do. Finally, labeling theory recognizes that though it is not rational, people do label certain people/ideas with a stigma. Thus, this intervention attempts to take advantage of the stigma against ‘old drunks’ and the positive labels on ‘young studs.’ Thus, many important psychology theories and ideas were recognized while forming the new Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk intervention, which were all very important because they help predict the reaction of the public (18). Therefore, the Be the Hunk Don’t Drive Drunk intervention is a great improvement upon the weaknesses of the Over the Limit Under Arrest campaign and can hopefully be much more effective as a public health campaign to reducing drunk driving rates in America.


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6. "Teenage Drunk Driving." First Eagle Insurance Services. 30 Mar. 2009.

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8. Robinson, Bruce. "Over the limit- Under Arrest?" Maryland DUI Lawyer. 11 Jan. 2009. 30 Mar. 2009 .

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12. Morrison, Frances, Rita Kukafka, and Stephen Johnson. "Analyzing the Structure and Content of Public Health Messages." PubMed Central (2005): 540-44.

13. Evans, W. "Social Marketing Campaigns and Children's Media Use." Children and Electronic Media 18 (2008). 12 Apr. 2009.

14. Chong, Dennis, and James Druckman. "Framing Theory." Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. (2007). 12 Apr. 2009.

15. Dewey. "Psychological Reactance." Intro Psych. 12 Apr. 2009. .

16. Cooke, Richard. "You Get The Results You Reward." Changing Minds. 07 Apr. 2007. 12 Apr. 2009 .

17. Jarm. "Social Reaction (Labeling) Theory: Pros, Cons, and Effects On Society." Article Alley. 28 Apr. 2008. 12 Apr. 2009.

18. "What is Psychology." A2zpsychology. 12 Apr. 2009.

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