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.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bob's Your Teapot

Whilst familiarity with a product may prove advantageous for some brands, Rowntree’s decided that this was boring.  So for the launch of their innovative new product, ‘Randoms’, they adopted a rather more absurd approach. 

The most striking aspect of this advert is its humour.  Words expected to appear in a list of directions are replaced with surprising ones related not to the problem presented, but to the product being snacked on by the actor throughout the ad.  Interestingly, these words and the objects they represent are totally commonplace and familiar (e.g. saxophone, rubber duck); the surprise lies in their being unexpectedly mixed together.  Arias-Bolzmann, Chakraborty and Mowen (2000) might call this a ‘surreal’ or ‘allegory’ form of absurdity, as it combines objects in surprising ways and uses imagery to reflect the quality of quirkiness.  This is reinforced by the product itself (comprising ‘random’ combinations of shapes, colours and textures), as well as by the advert’s setting.  Indeed, the ad utilises a contrast technique (Herr, 1986): the greys of the road, pavement, car and the woman’s business suit are contrasted with the colour of the sweets and the shocking language.  One can almost hear the advert shouting, This product is a refreshing change from the norm!  Does it work?  Arias-Bolzmann et al. suggest that absurd adverts, due to their attention grabbing, may be processed more elaborately and extensively (p. 37). 

Humour has been linked with increased favour towards an advert and the brand (Eisend, 2009), but how does it link?  This question opens a can of worms: does humour rely mostly on affective or cogntive processes, leading to this attitude change?  Some researchers have pointed to an ‘affect transfer’ effect (e.g. De Houwer, Thomas & Bayens, 2001) in which the positive mood elicited by humour becomes associated with the target (the ‘Randoms’, here).   Contrarily, Petty and Cacioppo’s (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) suggests that an individual placed in a good mood (e.g. by humour) will be less likely to disagree with the message presented in an advert and more likely to rely on ‘peripheral’ cues (aspects of the advert not directly related to the product) rather than ‘central’ cues (those that are related, such as the product’s merit).  It is worth noting here that there exist individual differences in the motivation to engage in central, systematic processing of a persuasive message, known as ‘need for cognition’ (NFC), wherein low NFC individuals are easier to persuade because they tend towards peripheral processing (Zhang, 1996).  Gender differences have been found with respect to NFC, such that males seem to appreciate humour in advertising more, and engage more in peripheral processing for humorous adverts (Chan, 2011).  What does this mean?  It suggests that this particular advert will appeal the most to – and persuade more effectively – those who attend mostly to its presentation of using humour. 

It is arguable that Rowntree’s even go the extra mile considering this phenomenon.  The principal character is similar in a number of ways to the product’s supposed target audience: an ordinary – until he eats the sweets and starts to talk nonsense – (male) person who appreciates humour and quirkiness (this being, at the time, a new, innovative product in its industry).  Associative casting (Pratkanis, 2007) might also be at work here, such that a viewer may desire to associate him/herself with the good peripheral qualities presented (being funny and standing out from the norm), so will be more likely to head out and buy the product, and this is made more effective by the use of similarity. 

Ultimately, simple as this advert may appear, its use of surprise, contrast, humour and audience-targeting make it simply effective as a product-launcher.  With ‘Randoms’, Rowntree’s are almost literally ‘breaking the mould’ in confectionary production (pun intended), and with a parting tagline of, “Let your Random side out”, maybe you can too…


Arias-Bolzmann, L., Chakraborty, G., & Mowen, J. C. (2000). Effects of absurdity in advertising: The moderating role of product category attitude and the mediating role of cognitive responses. Journal of Advertising, 29, 35-49.

Chan, F. Y. (2011). Selling through entertaining: The effect of humour in television advertising in Hong Kong. Journal of Marketing and Communications, 17, 319-336.

De Houwer, J., Thomas, S., & Bayens, F. (2001). Association learning of likes and dislikes: A review of 25 years of research on human affective conditioning. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 853-869.

Eisend, M. (2009). A meta-analysis of humor in advertising. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 37, 191-203.

Herr, P. M. (1986). Consequences of priming: Judgment and behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1106-1115.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 123-205.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Hove: Psychology Press.

Zhang, Y. (1996). The effect of humor in advertising: An individual-difference perspective. Psychology & Marketing,13, 531-545.

Izzy Fawdry

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