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Peddling a semiotics of fear: a critical examination of scare tactics and commercial strategies in public health promotion

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Social Semiotics
Issue number1
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to)57-80
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date13/12/14
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In this study, we critically examine the ways in which a nationwide health promotion campaign – the 2013 Diabetes UK/Tesco diabetes campaign, the largest of its kind in the UK – seeks to raise the general public's awareness of Type 2 diabetes. We subject a series of six campaign images (including their layout and accompanying text) to a multimodal discourse analysis, identifying the presence of a range of fear-inducing, stigmatising and commercial strategies, through which the campaign emphasises the dangers of diabetes and advocates personal responsibility for assessing both individual and others' risk of the disease. Specifically, we describe, in multi-semiotic detail, three discursive techniques deployed in the campaign to achieve these ends: (1) the depiction of grief and amplification of diabetes-related danger, (2) the promotion of diabetes risk and localisation of individuals' responsibility for their health and (3) the commercial branding and framing of the Diabetes UK/Tesco partnership – including the promotion of goods and services – as a means of diabetes prevention and management. Our findings raise concerns about the moral legitimacy of using fear-inducing and commercial strategies in order to (effectively) raise public awareness of and responses to Type 2 diabetes, strategies which do little to address the environmental factors which are associated with increasing rates of the disease.