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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sleep easy with Toms

Buying a pair of shoes is certainly not in the doctor’s handbook for curing insomnia. However in this advertisement, ethical shoe brand Toms, give us all a lesson in how to make a simple and understated advert, deliver BIG impact.

The advert makes effective us of the inverted consequences template. The statement at the bottom of the page reads: “For every pair you purchase, Toms will give a pair of shoes to a child in need. Since 2006 we have given over 140,000 shoes to 280,000 little feet”. This highlights the ramifications of not complying with the request, creating an internal conflict. The viewer is made to feel a sense of moral responsibility in the situation – a child in need will go without shoes if they do not purchase a pair. Arousal of emotion is a very effective way to induce compliance to a request.  For example, Archer et al (1979) found that when empathy for a defendant in a legal trial was increased, they received more favourable decisions. The impact of an emotional message on brand favourability has been found even when the rest of the content has no effect (Heath, 2007). This may be because the participant becomes focused on the emotion they are made to feel and therefore does not take the time to consider and critically analyse what they have seen, complying with the request as a mechanism to alleviate negative emotion and experience positive emotions (Pratkanis, 2007). To achieve positive emotions, targets may take the view that they are a charitable person (as this is traditionally a socially accepted norm and provides good justification for purchasing the shoes) or they could assert that they are a fashionable person, for Toms state that being charitable is the ‘biggest fashion statement you can make’.

Toms also attempts to dissuade viewers from purchasing its competitor’s products by ‘stealing their thunder’. The main tagline of the advert states that “Our shoes may not be able to make you run faster or jump higher” (which Nike Air, Adidas and other brands use as their selling point) “but it may help you sleep better”. This implies that whilst the other brands may bring you short term happiness, purchasing a pair of Toms can give you long term piece of mind, that you are actively making a difference to someone’s life. This can create a feeling of guilt if purchasing other brands’ shoes, as in relation to the offer from Tom’s, this seems a rather selfish act. In the same way as empathy and emotion described above, the feeling of guilt induces a desire to do something to counteract this behaviour – and buying a pair of Toms seems a rather straightforward way to rectify this behaviour. 

Furthermore an interesting research finding showed that even when people knew they were being manipulated by a message, their desire to donate was still positively affected (Hibbert et al, 2007). Therefore Toms seem to get away with a rather blatant and outrageous statement that buying a pair of their shoes will help you sleep at night. We all know people who do not have a pair and sleep comfortably and therefore by thinking rationally, we know that this is not likely to be an effective solution. However by this time it is too late and the influence of the consequences template and emotional messages, mean we have already bought three pairs…

Jessica Brett.


Archer, R. L., Foushee, H. C., Davis, M. H., & Aderman, D. (1979). Emotional empathy in a courtroom simulation: A person-situation interaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 9, 275-291.

Heath, R. (2007) Emotional Persuasion in Advertising: A
Hierarchy-of-Processing Model. Working Paper. UNSPECIFIED, Bath.(Unpublished)

Hibbert, S., Smith, A., Davies, A. and Ireland, F. (2007). Guilt appeals: Persuasion knowledge and charitable giving.Psychology & Marketing, 24(8), pp. 723-742.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress, pp. 17-82.

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