Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, February 1, 2013

ASPCA: Be the Answer


This is a widely known commercial that is aired in the United States sponsored by the organization ASPCA, who work to help rescue and care for animals that have experienced living in inadequate and abusive environments. The commercial combines text, images of sad animals and melancholic music to appeal to the viewer’s emotions. Midway through the ad, a supporter of this organization (a celebrity), explains that with a gift of 18 dollars a month you could solve all the problems in this animal’s life and help get them to a happy and safe home.

The advertisement makes use of an effective message tactic, specifically vivid  appeals. This is done by creating a video that is emotionally interesting, image provoking and has immediate results. The creators of this ad accomplish this with the combination of the footage of rescued animals, text that describes the conditions they have encountered, music that evokes a sad emotion and finally, a sponsor telling the viewer that they could “be the answer to an animal who is suffering and needs your help.” What I feel is most memorable about this ad is the tactical combination of cute animals with a sad track playing in the background. Without showing gruesome conditions, the commercial makes viewers feel sympathy for the animal, without feeling so overwhelmed that they feel the need to switch the channel. Many commercials like this are not as effective because the images shown leave the viewer too stunned or discouraged to help. To help improve this ad though, I would suggest it be shorter because I have heard from many people that it runs too long and doesn’t really show a “happy ending.”


An experiment was done to test whether vivid appeals would have an affect on people’s willingness to help a charitable cause and be more emphatic towards those in need. Participants were asked to read one of eight experimental descriptions and asked for a donation once done. The researchers tested university aged students on three independent variables: efficacy, vividness and geographic proximity. There were a total of six dependent variables measured: personal responsibility, obligation to help, emphatic arousal, how strongly one felt that their donation would make a difference, interest in donating another time, and monetary donation. The results showed that participants who were assigned to read a highly vivid appeal donated a larger amount of money individually, while participants who were asked for a donation for a third party were those that were likely to donate money in general. Along with those results, researchers observed that donating to the cause was a mood booster. In contrast, messages that encompassed high vividness, high efficacy and local geographic proximity produced sadder emotions following a solicitation. Finally, an interaction was found between vividness of the message and efficacy. This interaction reveals that people who were exposed to the highly emotionally vivid appeal believed with greater confidence that their donation would make a significant difference. Slaton, R.L., The effect of vividness, perceived efficacy, and proximity on empathy and charitable behavior: Hurting till you give and giving till it hurts.

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