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.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My right arm fell off today...


The ad above is part of a series of advertisements for the trade book publisher, Penguin Books UK. The ads quote the, often intriguing, first lines of various novels.  In this instance the line ‘My right arm fell off today’ is used from Joan Frances Turner’s ‘Dust’, and subsequently uses the slogan ‘every great beginning deserves to be continued’.

The advert uses a range of techniques to attract the attention of passersby, which arguably is the main aim for any advertisement or persuasive message. Most notably, the phrase ‘my right arm fell off today’ is likely to be a phrase no passerby expects to see. By violating the viewers expectations, It can be seen as a mild form of ‘shock tactics’ such that by shocking the reader, the viewer  is more likely to take another look, further cementing the persuasive message. Research has also shown that shocking the viewer can significantly increase attention, benefit memory and effectively change behaviours.  Dahl et al. (2003) compared three different approaches to HIV prevention advertisements (information, fear and shock) and found those exposed to shocking ads outperformed both other types of appeal on measures of attention recall and recognition, highlighting its effectiveness as a communication strategy. Though unlikely to deeply shock anyone, the Penguin ad may similarly reap the benefits of a shocking ad in surprising their audience with a phrase they are not expecting to see. In this way, the advertiser has successfully evoked interest and captured the attentions of its target audience. 

Furthermore, the Penguin Books ad is fairly simplistic. Research has shown that simplicity is important when the target audience only have brief exposure to the ad, such as if this ad were displayed on a billboard or at a train station. Experts on billboard advertising have previously recommend using eight words or less to increase effectiveness. In a sample of 252 billboards, Blasko (1985) showed that national advertisers had an average of fewer than seven words and 1.2 piece of information per billboard compared to local advertisers, who weren’t ‘in-the-know’, averaging about 13 words and 1.6 pieces of information per ad.
A study by Donthu, Cherian and Bhargava (1993) further illustrates the effectiveness of simplicity. They placed 10 new billboard ads on a 30 mile stretch of an American suburb, advertising local products and services. Four of the 10 had 7 words or fewer, the remainder had more than 8. Fifty days after they were placed, researchers undertook telephone interviews with 142 residents who passed all ten on their commute to work.  Respondents recalled 1.5 times as many of the ads with fewer words compared to those with many. With the main body of the Penguin ad using a mere 7 words, research would suggest they are more likely to be remembered meaning greater success for the company.

All in all, the content and simplicity of this rather quirky advertisement evokes intrigue in the viewer, with the aim of cementing the underlying persuasive message.  

Blasko, V. J. (1985), “A Content Analysis of the Creative Characteristics of Outdoor  advertising: National Vs. Regional Differences,” in Proceedings of the 1985 Conference of the American Academy of Advertising, Nancy Stephens, ed., Tempe, AZ, 17–21.

Dahl, D.W., Frankenberger, K.D., & Manchanda, R. V. (2003). Does It Pay to Shock? Reactions to Shocking and Nonshocking Advertising Content among University Students. Journal of Advertising Research,43,268-280.

Donthu, N., Cherian, J., & Bhargava, M. (1993). Factors influencing recall of outdoor advertising.. Journal of Advertising Research, 33(3), 64-72.




Sophie Preece 

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