Several message topic selection approaches propose that messages based on beliefs pretested and found to be more strongly associated with intentions will be more effective in changing population intentions and behaviors when used in a campaign. This study aimed to validate the underlying causal assumption of these approaches which rely on cross‐sectional belief–intention associations. We experimentally tested whether messages addressing promising themes as identified by the above criterion were more persuasive than messages addressing less promising themes. Contrary to expectations, all messages increased intentions. Interestingly, mediation analyses showed that while messages deemed promising affected intentions through changes in targeted promising beliefs, messages deemed less promising also achieved persuasion by influencing nontargeted promising beliefs. Implications for message topic selection are discussed.