Effective risk communication and the distribution of risk messages

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Literature review

In this chapter I firstly summarize previous research dealing on the one hand with similar paradoxical tensions and on the other hand using semiotic or multimodal analysis as a method. Highlighting related research is necessary to differentiate the study from existing research and for defining the research gap.
The literature review further mentions some studies coming from the field of risk communication to give a deeper understanding for the case. This section focuses on approaches of effective risk communication. As I try to reveal how the message is constructed, the findings of this study will be compared and discussed with previous findings in the conclusion. Nevertheless, I want to explicitly clarify that I do not use the findings in order to investigate effects, rather I use suggestion of effective risk communication studies to examine the quality of the message.
Semiotic analysis, the representation of risk and the economic paradox Wong and Danesh (2017) investigated in their study which strategies luxury brands developed to manage the paradox of pursuing their economical aims and meeting the complex stakeholder expactations of staying socially as well as environmentally responsible. Theoretically based in paradox theory and CSR communication they examined through a qualitative content analysis (especially looking into rethoric devices and linguistic elements) how the brands discursively navigate this tension on their websites. Findings revealed two discursive strategies: harmonious coexistence and convergence of paradoxes. The study suggests that findings can also be applied to other sectors.
The study of Lee et al. (2014) deals with persuasive appeals and framing on the websites of medical tourism brokers. Framing theory and prospect theory are used for the analysis. It was examined, how the brokers construct the reality through including or excluding information. Findings showed that these websites highlight the benefits of the treatments and downplay the risks. This is problematic because of several reasons: firstly potential patients do not get the whole information and therefore life-threatening conditions will be underestimated, secondly it is unethical and thirdly it raises legal concerns. The analysis showed, that these websites tried to persuade potential consumers through superficial messages stressing the expertise. There was a general lack of in-depth information enabling consumers to make educated decisions.
Beulens et al. (2011) described in their study the influence of the portrayal of risky driving in action movies on driving behavior and risk perception. They point out that dangerous ways of driving are portrayed in movies and this could according to media effects theories have a significant influence on the audience. Further, it is argued that outcomes of risky driving behavior are under represented, neither were safety actions (e.g. fastening the seat belt) shown. This misrepresentation could increase misperceptions within the audience. The findings of their content analysis suggest, that if role models would take prevention actions e.g. wearing a seat belt, this action would be perceived as norm and could have an influence on non users.
Brookes and Harvey (2015) investigated scare tactiscs as well as commercial strategies in public health campaigns (Brookes & Harvey, 2015, p. 57). They claim, that beside pointing out beneficial actions to take to support hope, the most common discurisve strategy is to work with fear messages. The examination was conducted through multimodal analysis on six campaign images. The study wanted to emphaize the danger of diabetes, to reveal fear- inducing messages and commercial strategies. Findings showed that the campaign does not address preventing actions but fear messages and following concerns about the moral claim arise.
A more recent study of Brookes and Harvey (2017) examined the redeveloped website of a payday loan provider by using multimodal analysis. The website was chosen, as (they refer here to Kress and van Leeuwen, 2001) websites are “an infinitely rich and detailed set of semiotic resources“ (Brookes & Harvey, 2017, pp. 170–171). Within their analysis, they identified three overlapping themes: “(1) constructing the empowered and responsible borrower, (2) de-stigmatising […] the payday borrower, and (3) minimising the consequences and risks associated with payday borrowing“ (Brookes & Harvey, 2017, pp. 171–172).
Within another study, Harvey (2013, p. 691) did a multimodal analysis of commercial hair loss websites. He described four discursive strategies, through which the websites endorse hair loss treatments: “(1) representing the balding man as type and outcast, (2) promoting the attractiveness and self-assurance of the hirsute man, (3) situating male hair loss in a scientific discourse and (4) encouraging consumers to self-evaluate their hair loss” (Harvey, 2013, p. 691).
Moran and Lee (2013) did a multimodal analysis on Australian surgery websites and the representation of genital surgery for women. The ways in which surgical interventions are normalized were examined. Within the four chosen websites, three themes could be identified. Findings show, that a rhetoric of choice conceals an ideology of body conformity and beauty ideals. Neoliberalism could be identified as ideological base within each theme. “Neoliberal ideology promotes consumerism and individualism and assumes that all individuals should exercise […] personal responsibility” (Moran & Lee, 2013, p. 376).
Ozanne et al. (2016) did a multiple case study on the organizational responses to paradoxical tensions with a focus on the triple-bottom-line (the pressure for companies to be socially responsible and environmental friendly while pursuing economic objectives at the same time). They aimed to identify how organizations respond to these tensions and argue that “there is a lack of empirical studies examining how firms effectively manage the intersection of social, environmental, and economic responsibilities” (Ozanne et al., 2016, p. 250). Findings show how a communicative balance within this tensions can create conditions of wealth, sustainable economy and security.
Koteyko (2009) did a discourse analysis of advertisements for nutrition containing probiotics. She examined how the different values of being healthy are discursively constructed to the products. She adapted genre analysis as suggested by Bhatia (2002), this analysis aims “to understand […] the realities of the world of texts. The real world is not only complex but dynamic too; complex in the sense that it incorporates texts of various kinds,serving often overlapping and at the same time, conflicting communicative purposes” (Bhatia, 2002, p. 7). Within the ads argumentation, the companies construct health benefits to their products by using the endorsements of professionals and citing studies. Further, words with positive healthy connotations are used frequently. By using imperative and second person pronouns, an equal and personalized relationship between producer and consumer (Koteyko, 2009, p. 121) is constructed. Findings showed, how the websites persuade, inform, educate and entertain at the same time.
This chapter identified Brookes and Harvey (2015, 2017; 2013) as key researchers within the field of the communication of paradoxes. Further, most of the reviewed studies deal with the construction of the message as well as with discursive strategies (Brookes & Harvey, 2015, 2017; Koteyko, 2009; Lee et al., 2014; Moran & Lee, 2013; Wong & Dhanesh, 2017). Moreover, foregrounding as well as backgrounding (Beullens et al., 2011; Lee et al., 2014; Wong & Dhanesh, 2017) the deployment of social actors (Beullens et al., 2011; Koteyko, 2009; Lee et al., 2014) as well as ethics (Brookes & Harvey, 2015; Lee et al., 2014) and framing (Koteyko, 2009; Lee et al., 2014) play an essential role. The reviewed studies show an upcoming interest in the discursive navigation of paradoxical aims within strategic communication. Even though the study of Wong and Dhanesh (2017) has to a certain degree a similar approach than I take within this master thesis, they call for further studies within other branches to give a deeper understanding of how tensions are discursively navigated. Furthermore, the adapted analytical categories vary.

Effective risk communication and the distribution of risk messages

Demeritt and Norbert (2014) summarized different studies of good risk communication which are often competing. They used the four model of risk communication by Wardman (2008). The first two models (risk message- and risk government model) are one-way modes of communication. The other two are two-way modes of communication (risk instrument-and risk dialogue model). While the risk message model is focusing on the design and framing of the message, the risk instrument model deals with strategies to control risk perception. For the risk government model, risk communication is seen as political power that provides information for individual choice instead of regulation (based on Foucault’s idea of governmentality). Findings are, that different needs require different risk communication models.
Wardman (2008) also used the three imperatives by Fiorino (1990). The normative imperative sees risk communication as ethical and claims that it is done, simply because it must be done. Individuals should be informed to enable them to decide. The instrumental imperative sees risk communication as an instrument for organizations to help them achieve their goals. The substantive imperative sees risk communication as a means to improve
knowledge. The three imperatives show that risk communication can serve different aims. Wardman (2008) further used Kasperson et al¢s (1988) social amplification of risk framework, which provides a better understanding of risk communication in combination with economics, society and psychology. It is grounded in the Shannon-Weaver model (1949) and argues, that the communication process underlies complex interactions of different modes, e.g. heuristics, stigmatization, values and beliefs, dramatization or credibility.
Kasperson (2014) also investigated the lessons learned in risk communication within the last three decades. Findings show, that “sustained effort throughout the risk deliberation process“ (Kasperson, 2014, p. 1235) is necessary. He argues that the public is not able to cope with the full range of uncertainty. To communicate effectively, it is most important to tailor the appropriate message.
Palenchar and Heath¢s (2007) paper is based on the approach that key of risk communication is to add value to society. It is argued, that “a fully functioning risk community is one in which risks are known to occur, and this knowledge keeps industry, government, and citizens continually learning” (Heath & Palenchar, 2000, p. 156). The communication process and the content are essential to increase awareness and knowledge and to generate positive attitudes and behaviors. Further, how the message is framed plays a vital role towards the reaction.
Saquini et al. (2016) concentrated on communication interventions “designed to motivate reduction of disaster risk” (Sanquini et al., 2016, p. 345). Firstly, they give a deeper understanding of the message¢s role and the messenger. Secondly, they produced content for an intervention movie in consideration of the theory of communicating actionable risk (Wood et al., 2012), which suggest that “people will take preparedness action when they know what to do, think it would work, and receive accordant social cues“ (Sanquini et al., 2016, p. 346). It is argued, that the main motivational factor to take preparedness actions is the experience of a disaster. An important issue for communication strategies is framing, as it has great influence on the preparedness action if “the desired behavior is framed in a positive or negative way” (Sanquini et al., 2016, p. 349). Findings show, that high sympathy can be achieved through role models, who are in harmony with the community roles. Fear arousing messages should be avoided.
Wood et al. (2012) suggest to focus on preparedness actions instead of the risk itself and named this approach communication actionable risk. The model includes several constructs making communication campaigns effective: content (suggesting specific actions and the outcome), density (using several channels), repetition (of the message), consistency (over time and avoiding conflicting information), observation (seeing other people getting prepared), knowledge (as base for taking actions), perceived effectiveness and milling (reinforcement through interpersonal communication). One important finding is, that it is more effective to communicate actions instead of risks.
McClure et al. (2009) investigated message framing for risk preparedness actions and distinguished between the frame of the action and the outcome. Participants were handed one of six leaflets discussing the benefits of earthquake preparation with different framed examples. Findings showed, that negative outcome frames lead to higher risk perceptions and an increased willingness to prepare. The highest effect could be achieved through the combination of negative outcomes with positive actions. Nevertheless, it must be considered that attitudes are strongly embedded in societal values and can therefore differ.

Table of figures
Recreational winter sports and the economic branch
Backcountry Access
Avalanches – a communication tradition
Aim and research question
Structure of the study
Literature review
Semiotic analysis, the representation of risk and the economic paradox
Effective risk communication and the distribution of risk messages
Positioning the study and identification of the research gap
Theoretical frame and concepts
Definition of risk
Risk communication
Method and material 
Selection of material
Semiotic analysis
Analytical categories
Lexical choices
Visual and auditory choices
Quality of the study
Backcountry Access – Get the gear
ORTOVOX – Avalanche basics
Comparison of findings and results
Limitations and suggestions for further research
Responsibility versus commerciality Paradoxical message construction in the case of avalanche airbag producersResponsibility versus commerciality Paradoxical message construction in the case of avalanche airbag producers

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