This campaign was used by the WWF in 2009 to encourage electricity conservation and environmental awareness. This advert uses the emotion-based ‘guilt’ tactic. It aims to show the audience that their actions are harming others (Miceli, 1992) – in this case, polar bears, and hence the environment – and thereby causes them to want to repair their wrong-doing: change their behaviour regarding electricity conservation. It suggests that there will be a moral benefit, as well as financial benefit, to adhering to the message.
This enhances a sense of responsibility to act, due to perceived accountability for negative consequences (Basil, Ridgway & Basil, 2006). It is necessary that the person deems their current behaviour – in this case, wasting electricity – as morally, or socially wrong (Miceli and Castelfranchi, 1998), in order for them to want to change their behaviour in line with their personal values.
Research has shown that guilt appeals, coupled with a sense of responsibility, increase likelihood of charitable donations (Basil, Ridgway & Basil, 2006). Therefore, this is an effective tactic for behavioural change, as the audience feel it is their responsibility to take action.
Similarly, one study involved inducing guilt in participants by asking them to give electric shocks to a 'victim', who in turn asked a favour of the participant: to make a series of phone calls for a petition (Carlsmith & Gross, 1969). Results showed that participants in the guilt condition were more likely to agree to make these calls (Carlsmith & Gross, 1969). This suggests that inducing guilt can cause a person to act, even when their actions will not directly or explicitly aid the ‘victim’ (here, the environment).
Miceli, M. (1992). How to make someone feel guilty: strategies of guilt inducement and their goals. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 22, 81–104.
Miceli, M., & Castelfranchi, C. (1998). How to silence one’s conscience: cognitive defenses against the feeling of guilt. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 28, 287–318.
Basil, D.Z., Ridgway, N.M., & Basil, M.D. (2006). Guilt appeals: the mediating effect of responsibility. Psychology and Marketing, 23, 1035-1054.
Carlsmith, J.M., & Gross, A.E. (1969). Some effects of guilt on compliance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 11, 232-239.