Behaviour Change

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

Saturday, February 9, 2013

For Simple Driving

This advert portrays a woman in a communal role, as helpless, submissive, and frankly incompetent (unlike the superior man who is an excellent driver) feeding the stereotype that women can’t drive, or rather are bad drivers. This advert is a clear example of benevolent sexism. The woman is depicted as beautiful, wealthy and fashionable, but in her ‘proper’ role as weak and inferior rather than in a counterstereotypical role such as a career woman. Research has found that sexism sells (e.g. Infanger, Bosak, & Sczesny, 2012) however there are cases where such sexism results in negative attitudes towards the product (Jaffe & Berger, 1994), and such advertising undoubtedly contributes to gender stereotyping and inequality in traditional sex roles in society. The Mini Automatic essentially excludes half the population as the target market is female only, but Mini’s are not necessarily feminine cars. So the advert will not appeal to male consumers, and the female targets are patronised and may take offence. Who would buy from a company that assumes you are a bad driver and you are too stupid to operate a manual car so they’ve made it ‘nice and simple’? I imagine there would be some psychological reactance in this case; defiance against the offensive suggestion resulting in targets moving in the direction opposite from the influence effort – the ‘boomerang effect’ (Brehm, 1966).

Wicklund, Slattum and Solomon (1970) demonstrated psychological reactance by giving participants 7 different sunglasses to rate and the one they liked best they could purchase at half price. In condition 1 (vested interest) the saleswoman told the participants that if they bought a certain pair she would get half the cut of the profits. In condition 2 (no vested interest) the saleswoman informed participants she would get nothing from the profits. Participants in the vested interest condition showed the boomerang effect by making more refusals and lower attractive ratings of the pressured pair of sunglasses, in attempt to establish their freedom of choice. It is likely that women would react to this advert by preferring a manual car perhaps, to show that they do not 'need' simple driving.

A more effective strategy to target women would have been to depict her in a more agentic, powerful, high status role to appeal to women who aspire to be like that. ‘Simple driving’ could then refer not to stupidity but to efficiency; suggesting that career women want smooth, efficient, reliable products, for example. This would have the effect of placing the targets in a high-status admirer altercast, being more inclined to like the product associated with a desirable role model. Jaffe and Berger (1994) found that advertising was more effective when promoting egalitarian female roles.


Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic Press.

Infanger, M., Bosak, J., & Sczesny, S. (2012). Communality sells: The impact of perceivers’ sexism on the evaluation of women’s portrayels in advertisements. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 219-226.

Jaffe, L. J., & Berger, P. D. (1994). The effect of modern female sex role portrayals on advertising effectiveness. Journal of Advertising Research, 34, 3243.


Wicklund, R. A., Slattum, V., & Solomon, E. (1970). Effects of implied pressure toward commitment on ratings of choice alternatives. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 6, 449-57.

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