Research Publication Roundup: Summer 2018

A vibrant and collaborative interdisciplinary research culture at the UNC School of Media and Journalism creates new knowledge, advances scholarship and helps reinvent media. Below is a list of recently published or presented scholarship by MJ-school faculty and students.




Hennink-Kaminski, H., Ihekweazu, C., Vaughn, A. E., & Ward, D. S. (2018). Using formative research to develop the Healthy Me, Healthy We campaign: Partnering childcare and home to promote healthy eating and physical activity behaviors in preschool children. Social Marketing Quarterly, 24(3), 194-215.

Although social marketing principles have been successfully employed in school-based obesity prevention interventions, their use in early care and education (ECE) settings has been limited. This paper reports on formative research to develop Healthy Me, Healthy We (HMHW), an innovative social marketing campaign that encourages partnership between parents and providers to foster healthy eating and physical activity in preschoolers. To guide campaign development, we consulted existing literature and identified useful theories. In addition, three focus groups with providers (n = 17) and four with parents (n = 20) were conducted to understand strategies used to instill healthy habits in children, perceptions of how their personal behaviors influence children, and the usefulness of parent–provider partnerships. Parents and providers recognized healthy eating and physical activity as important to the development of the “whole child.” Both groups expressed feeling great responsibility for shaping children’ habits and being a role model for healthy behaviors, particularly for healthy eating. While parents and providers felt partnership was important, areas of conflict emerged with how partnerships should be executed. There is great potential for such partnerships, but careful communication is needed to avoid triggering feelings of guilt among parents and perceptions of superiority among providers. These findings informed campaign development, which was pretested in an ECE setting. The resulting HMHW campaign is delivered by the childcare center and includes materials for classroom and home use. The campaign helps strengthen parent–provider partnerships to encourage healthy eating and physical activity habits during early childhood, a critical period in the development of lifelong health habits.


Kelley, D. E., Noar, S. M., & Seidenberg, A. B. (2018). Understanding misinformation in the pro-tanning communication environment: A content analysis. American Journal of Health Education, 49(4), 234-245.

To respond to the Surgeon General’s call to develop, disseminate, and evaluate messages to reduce indoor tanning (IT) in the 2014 Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer, an understanding of the IT communication environment is necessary. The purpose of this study was to identify the most prevalent false or misleading IT claims. Pro-tanning websites (N = 78) were identified in a Google search. Using systematic quantitative content analysis, website characteristics were coded, as well as claims regarding health, safety, appearance/social, and mood/relaxation benefits of IT. All text appearing on the websites was reviewed and coded. Two prominent types of claims emerged: health (86%) and IT safety (90%) benefits of IT. Within health, the most common claims were: (1) prevent health conditions (73%) and (2) a base tan provides protection from the sun (41%). Within safety, the most common claims were: (1) safe because it is controlled (81%) and (2) government regulation ensures safety (56%). An abundance of misleading claims was identified, prompting concern from a public health perspective, because tanners may use these claims to justify their tanning behavior. By understanding the prevalence of these claims, prevention efforts may be more effective in creating a disruptive association between IT and many advertised “benefits” of engaging in this dangerous behavior.


Kim, D., Kim, S., & Song, D. (2018). Can Pokémon GO catch brands? The fit effect of game characters and brands on efficacy of brand communications. Journal of Marketing Communications, 1-16.

Given the recent popularity of augmented reality (AR) games, such as Pokémon GO, this study explores the congruence effect of game characters and brands on brand evaluations and the underlying mechanisms of the effect. Prior gaming experience and motivations are considered. An experiment reveals that inexperienced gamers are likely to have more favorable evaluations of the target brands when the images of game characters match the brand images, whereas these effects disappear for experienced gamers. Furthermore, the research demonstrates that experienced gamers are more likely to hold game-specific motivations than the inexperienced, while inexperienced gamers are motivated more by social interaction for playing AR games. Lastly, a mediation analysis reveals that social interaction-related motivation mediates inexperienced gamers’ preference of character–brand congruence. This study sheds light on how AR games can be utilized by brand communicators.


Meernik, C., Ranney, L., Lazard, A., Kim, K., Queen, T., Avishai-Yitshak, A., Sheeran, P., & Goldstein, A. (2018) The effect of cigarillo packaging elements on young adult perceptions of product flavor, taste, smell, and appeal. PLoS One, 13(4), 1-13.

Product packaging has long been used by the tobacco industry to target consumers and manipulate product perceptions. This study examines the extent to which cigarillo packaging influences perceptions of product flavor, taste, smell, and appeal. A web-based experiment was conducted among young adults. Participants viewed three randomly selected cigarillo packs, varying on pack flavor descriptor, color, type, branding, and warning—totaling 180 pack images. Mixed-effects models were used to estimate the effect of pack elements on product perceptions. A total of 2,664 current, ever, and never little cigar and cigarillo users participated. Cigarillo packs with a flavor descriptor were perceived as having a more favorable taste and smell compared to packs with no flavor descriptor. Compared to packs with no color, pink and purple packs were more likely to be perceived as containing a flavor and were rated more favorably on taste, smell, and appeal. While warnings on packs decreased favorable perceptions of product taste and smell. Warnings did not moderate the effects of flavor descriptor or color. The researchers believe this study provides the first quantitative evidence that cigarillo packaging alters consumers’ cognitive responses, and warnings on packs do not suffice to overcome the effects of product packaging. The findings support efforts at federal, state, and local levels to prohibit flavor descriptors and their associated product flavoring in non-cigarette products such as cigarillos, along with new data that supports restrictions on flavor cues and colors.


Lazard, A., Mackert, M., Bock, M., Love, B., Dudo, A., & Atkinson, L. (2018) Visual assertions: Effects of photo manipulation and dual processing for food advertisements. Visual Communication Quarterly. 25(1), 16-30.

In our media landscape, consumers view a plethora of messages with visual assertions, created through postproduction photo manipulation, which communicate meaning at-a-glance. These visual assertions are processed initially and directly and greatly influence how consumers think, feel, and behave. Yet the impact of visuals, which likely color all processing, is not incorporated in persuasive message processing models. Using dual processing models from multiple disciplines as a theoretical foundation, this study demonstrates through two experiments that the effects of photo manipulation, as visual assertions, in food advertising increased consumers' perceptions of healthfulness, positive attitudes, and purchase intentions. Dual processing models for persuasive messages should be extended to account for the initial, influential visual processing of implied assertions, often manipulated during postproduction.


Noar, S. M., Rohde, J. A., Horvitz, C., Lazard, A., Cornacchione Ross, J., & Suftin, E. L.  (2018). Adolescents’ receptivity to e-cigarette harms messages delivered using text messaging. Addictive Behaviors.

E-cigarette use among adolescents has dramatically risen since 2011, yet little research has tested e-cigarette harms messages among adolescents. Sixty-nine adolescents were enrolled in an 8-day pretest-posttest text messaging study to examine adolescents' receptivity to e-cigarette health harms messages delivered using text messaging. Message ratings were assessed, along with knowledge, thoughts, and beliefs about e-cigarette harms. Adolescents rated the three messages favorably, with both chemical and brain messages scoring higher than a nicotine message on fear arousal and perceived message effectiveness. More than one-third of adolescents showed the messages to others and talked to others about the messages. At the posttest, knowledge about the harms of e-cigarettes, thinking about the risks of e-cigarettes, and the perceived risks of e-cigarettes were all significantly higher compared to the pretest. This pilot study suggests that adolescents are receptive to e-cigarette health harms messages and that delivering such messages using text messaging is feasible and acceptable. The researchers concluded that future research should systematically develop and test a broad set of e-cigarette health harms messages and examine their impact in a randomized controlled trial.


Yang, A., & Saffer, A. (2018). NGOs’ advocacy in the 2015 refugee crisis: A study of agenda building in the digital age. American Behavioral Scientist, 62(4), 421-439.

In the 2015 European refugee crisis, nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) offered help and actively advocated for millions of refugees. The current study aims to understand what communication strategies are most effective for NGOs to influence media coverage and the public’s social media conversations about refugees. The researchers found that agenda building on traditional media and in social media conversations require different strategies. Specifically, although providing information subsidies could powerfully influence traditional media coverage, its effect waned in the context of social media conversations. In contrast, NGOs’ hyperlink network positions emerged as one of the influential factors for NGOs’ prominence in social media conversations. Moreover, stakeholder-initiated engagement could influence agenda building both in traditional media coverage and social media conversations. Finally, organizational resources and characteristics are important factors as well. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.


Wagner Garrett, K. P., Widman, L., Nesi, J., & Noar, S. M. (2018). Intentions to use emergency contraception: The role of accurate knowledge and information source credibility. American Journal of Health Education, 49(4), 264-270.

Emergency contraception (EC) is a highly effective form of birth control that may lower rates of unintended pregnancy among young women. But efforts to disseminate EC to women are hampered by misinformation and inadequate information. The purpose of this study was to determine the sources from which young women learn about EC (including health care providers, friends/interpersonal sources, media sources, or no information sources) and to examine associations between source credibility with the accuracy of EC knowledge and intentions to use EC. Using a computer-based survey, 339 college women reported their EC information sources, knowledge about EC, and behavioral intentions to use EC. In total, 97% of participants had heard of EC from at least one source and 49% indicated that they were highly likely to use EC in the future if needed. Results demonstrated that EC knowledge mediated the relationship between EC information source credibility and intentions to use EC. This study contributes important insights to a scarce literature on EC information sources and the factors that predict intentions to use EC. Future EC promotion efforts should target Health Education sources instead of media or interpersonal sources to promote EC knowledge and use among young sexually at-risk populations.




42nd Annual Conference of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research (MAPOR)
Nov. 17-19, 2017 | Chicago, Illinois

Wu, L., Riffe, D., Kifer, M., & McDonald, B. (2017, November). Presidential Primary Information Seeking in Two Swing States: Beliefs, Attitudes, and Internet Dependency. Paper presented at the 42nd Annual Conference of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research, Chicago, Illinois.

2018 International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference (ICRCC)
March 12-14 | Orlando, Florida

Liu, B. F., Austin, L., & Jin, Y. (2018, March). Telling the tale: The role of narrative persuasion in helping people respond to crises. Paper presented at the 2018 International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference, Orlando, Florida.

American Academy of Advertising 2018 Annual Conference
March 23-26, 2018 | New York, New York

Hester, J.B. (2018, March). Two Decades of Scholarly Research in Advertising: Beyond the “Leading” Journals. Paper presented at the American Academy of Advertising 2018 Annual Conference, New York, New York.

25th International Public Relations Symposium BledCom
July 5-7, 2018 | Lake Bled, Slovenia

Guidry, J., Austin, L., Kim, S., & Song, B. (2018, July). Crisis narratives of #Harvey and #Irma: Conversations on Twitter and Instagram. Paper presented at the 25th International Public Relations Symposium BledCom, Lake Bled, Slovenia.

2018 Project No Rest Conference: Awareness to Action: Proactively Confronting Human Trafficking in NC Communities.
Aug. 7-8, 2018 | New Bern, North Carolina

Friedman, B., & Johnston, A. (2018, August). Raise your voice: How to use your expertise to improve media coverage of human trafficking. Presented at the 2018 Project No Rest Conference: Awareness to Action: Proactively Confronting Human Trafficking in NC Communities. New Bern, North Carolina.

114th American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting and Exhibition.
Aug. 30 - Sept. 2, 2018 | Boston, Massachusetts

Freelon, D. (2018, August). The (Non)Americans: Analyzing Russian Influence Operations on Twitter. Paper presented at the 114th APSA Annual Meeting and Exhibition, Boston, Massachusetts.