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A ZMET-based analysis of perceptions of climate change among young South Koreans: Implications for social marketing communication

George Anghelcev (College of Communications and Arthur W. Page Center, Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA.)
Mun-Young Chung (College of Communications, Penn State University, University Park, PA, USA.)
Sela Sar (Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising and Institute of Communication Research, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA.)
Brittany R.L. Duff (Charles H. Sandage Dept of Advertising , University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA.)

Journal of Social Marketing

ISSN: 2042-6763

Article publication date: 5 January 2015




Successful marketing communication campaigns require a thorough assessment of the public's current perceptions and attitudes toward the topic of the campaign. Such insights are most likely attained if a range of research methods are employed. However, in the area of pro-environmental campaigns, there has been an over-reliance on quantitative surveys. To illustrate the benefits of complementary, qualitative approaches, this paper reports a qualitative investigation of perceptions of climate change among young South Koreans.


The study employed a variant of the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET), a hybrid protocol which combines photo elicitation with metaphor analysis of subsequent in-depth individual interviews. Unlike survey research, ZMET uncovers the emotional, interpretive and sensory mental structures which, along with factual knowledge, make up the public mindset about climate change.


The analysis revealed a multifaceted mental model of climate change, whereby factual, interpretive and emotional knowledge is organized around themes of loss, human greed, affective distress and iconic representations of tragic endings. The causal dynamics of climate change are construed along a continuum of psychological distance, with antecedents placed in proximity and effects assigned to distant temporal, geographical and psychological spaces.

Practical implications

Four message strategies for climate change mitigation campaigns are identified based on the findings.


The study makes a methodological argument for supplementing survey research with image-based qualitative investigations in the formative stages of pro-environmental campaigns. More specifically, the article demonstrates the applicability of ZMET to social marketing communication. Apart from the methodological implications, this appears to be the first in-depth qualitative investigation of public perceptions of climate change in East Asia, a populous and fast developing region which has become a major contributor to the world’s carbon emissions, and an important player in the global effort toward mitigation.



This study was made possible by an Arthur W. Page Center research grant to the first author.


Anghelcev, G., Chung, M.-Y., Sar, S. and Duff, B.R.L. (2015), "A ZMET-based analysis of perceptions of climate change among young South Koreans: Implications for social marketing communication", Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 56-82.



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