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

Parkinson's Persuasion

I certainly hope I will not be needing life insurance anytime soon. But if I somehow found I was, what would convince me to invest in Sun Life’s cover? How effective is their television advertisement which often plagues my daytime viewing and what are the influential tactics that they employ?

Having Michael Parkinson (or ‘Parky’ as he is affectionately known by smitten ladies over the age of 70), as a feature in this advert presents an example of both a High Status-Admirer Altercast and a Similarity Altercast. We see ‘the great British talk show host’ (as far as The Guardian is concerned) expressing concerns for his loved ones that are likely to be shared by the target audience, an image reinforced by the collage of family photographs spread across the back of the studio. Support for using prestigious people arises from  Weick, Gilfillan and Keith (1973), who found orchestras made fewer mistakes on a piece of music if the composer was supposedly of high, rather than low status. Stotland, Zander and Natsoulas (1961) demonstrated similar individuals were effective in influence, who found sharing music preferences with a confederate increased agreement in rating nonsense syllables. Research considering the following problem seems to be sparse though: do we lose aspirations to be like a celebrity once they depict themselves to be just like us?
We are also assured that this particular cover is the most popular of its kind in the UK. This gives the impression that many others are supporting the advertised service, which may remove any potential concerns related to its legitimacy. This Social Consensus effect is perhaps best demonstrated with the ever-amusing study by Milgram, Bickman and Berkowitz (1969), in which confederates on a busy street looking up at a building would often attract other pedestrians to copy the ‘looking up’ response, forming a rapidly growing, gormless crowd.

If ‘Parkys’ soothing tones and the prospect of jumping on the bandwagon aren’t enough to persuade you into giving up your life savings, how about free stuff? The treasure trove of free electronics offered upon signing up may tempt people, but perhaps the most powerful gift is the humble pen. Despite the majority of older people having, in my experience, a collection of pens that will outlive them several times over, this pen will undoubtedly increase sales due to the sense of Obligation it creates. Receiving favours (even if not requested) results in people feeling obliged to repay the debt, in this case by using the company’s services. Another example of this effect is receiving free mints after a meal, which increases tips (Strohmetz et al., 2002).

Sun Life’s advert has been a success for the company, despite seeming rather simple compared to more flashy advertisements. The proof here would be the sheer length of time it has been airing. This is due in no small part to the effective use of different methods employed to persuade its target audience.


Milgram, S., Bickman, L., & Berkowitz, L. (1969). Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13(2), 79

Stotland, E., Zander, A., & Natsoulas, T. (1961). Generalization of interpersonal similarity.  The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 62(2), 250

Strohmetz, D. B., Rind, B., Fisher, R., & Lynn, M. (2002). Sweetening the till: The use of candy to increase restaurant tipping. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(2), 300-309.

Weick, K. E., Gilfillan, D. P., Keith, T. A. (1973). The effect of composer credibility on orchestra performance. Socioetry, 36, 435-462.

Stuart Miller

1 comment:

  1. Very good Stu, liked the writing style and the analysis.


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