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Will Shocking Dad's Day PSA Work?

Will dark humor inspire men to see the doctor? A new public health campaign launched just in time for Father's Day hopes it will at least startle them into thinking about their own mortality.

In one public service announcement, a young salesclerk begins explaining a product's extended warranty to a father and his son. "But there's no need for you to get that," he deadpans, addressing the dad. "You failed to get the tests you needed at the doctor … so you won't be around in two years to see him grow up, which means the warranty would be useless."

Men have famously high levels of denial about their health risks. They die younger than women, they're hospitalized more often with complications from preventable illnesses and studies show they're more likely to see a doctor if pushed by their spouses.

About 57 percent of U.S. men see a health practitioner for routine care, compared with nearly 74 percent of women, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which launched the campaign with the Ad Council to encourage men to get preventive care.

Shock ads have been used for years to get through to populations that aren't listening or paying attention. Who can forget the powerful "Keep America Beautiful" campaign which featured The Crying Indian ( Iron Eyes Cody) who shed a tear after garbage was dumped on his feet?

More recently, New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene unveiled an ad campaign that portrayed globs of human fat spilling out of a soda bottle and asked "Are you pouring on the pounds?"

The World Health Organization has urged governments to include graphic images of sickness, suffering and death caused by tobacco use. And some say the most memorable shock ad in Australian history was the 1987 Grim Reaper campaign unleashed at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

But it's not clear how effective the ads are. One preliminary study using brain imaging technology found that low-key anti-smoking ads are more likely to be remembered than attention-grabbing messages. The study, published in the journal NeuroImage, didn't look at whether seeing the PSAs altered the smoker's attitude; it asked only what they remember seeing.

Still, the new Healthy Men campaign is less of a shock ad and more of an emotional appeal, which ultimately might be more effective. The public service ads ask a simple question: "Do you want to be around to see your children grow up?" If not for you, do it for them.

Here's a list of tests every man should have.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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