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

Calling all men...

At first glance, this advert for ‘The Art of Shaving’ seems simple. However some clever persuasive techniques have been employed, encouraging men to buy, buy, buy! To illustrate this point, let us imagine an ordinary man, Mr X, reclining in his lounge as he flicks through a magazine (presumably containing intellectual articles rather than nudey ladies). He stumbles across this advert.

At play here are two of Cialdini’s (1984) principles; social proof and consistency.  

What does Cialdini (1984) mean by social proof? This is the idea that awareness of other people using the product makes it more desirable. This advert does not say ‘REPEAT AFTER ME’ conjuring images of one lone man desperately clasping a shaving brush. Instead it says ‘REPEAT AFTER US’ and automatically we imagine an army of men kitted out with state of the art shaving equipment. Furthermore, the tagline below; ‘Welcome to the brotherhood of shaving’ creates the impression of a group of united men, affirming to Mr X that others use these products.

The use of the words ‘brotherhood’ and ‘us’ also emphasises that Mr X and product users are part of the same ingroup (men). Use of the phrase ‘a gift that my wife cannot borrow’ also emphasises their dissimilarity with the outgroup (women). Persuasive techniques are more effective when delivered by members of the ingroup as shown by Newcomb (1943) who found that lasting political attitude change was most likely to occur in college students who felt most involved with the college ingroup. 

The second technique, consistency, is exercised in two ways; commitment and effort. To consider the first, let us imagine Mr X chanting to himself ‘I will ask for a gift that my wife cannot borrow’. Although saying this out loud is unlikely, he may well say this in his head. In doing so he has made a commitment, even if only to himself. If our actions and our thoughts are different then this creates discomfort (cognitive dissonance) so we wish to act in a way consistent with our beliefs (Festinger, 1957). For this reason, Mr X buys the brush.

Secondly, the advert lacks a product price. In order for Mr X to find this information out, he must get out of his chair and exert effort. Effort exerted is time committed and this makes us more likely to buy. This was demonstrated by Aronson and Mills (1959) who showed that people who had to exert more effort to be part of a group, through completing an unpleasant initiation, viewed the group more favourably. This means for Mr X, exerting effort to find the price, will view the brush more favourably. Again this could be due to Festinger’s (1957) cognitive dissonance; why would he act in a way so effortful for a product he disliked?

So as you can see, Mr X might be unassuming, enjoying his Sunday afternoon but thanks to ‘The Art of Shaving’s’ persuasive techniques he will soon be the proud owner of a shaving brush.

Robyn Wootton

Aronson, E., & Mills, J. (1959). The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology59, 177-181.

Cialdini, R. B. (1984). The psychology of persuasion. New York: Quill William Morrow.

Festinger, L. (1967). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Newcomb, T. (1943). Personality and social change: Attitude formation in a student community. New York: Dryden.

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