This simple phrase with the ominous stare and pointing finger of Lord Kitchener is a famous example of First World War propaganda. The poster is part of the British Military campaign to prompt men to sign up to fight for their country. Despite its apparent simplicity there are a number of persuasive techniques being employed.
Firstly, as Cialdini (2001) states as part of his six laws of influence, we are more likely to comply with someone who is an authoritative figure. He uses the classic Milgram (1963) study to illustrate this point, whereby participants were prepared to administer electric shocks to others because they were told to by the research scientist. Conformity does not necessarily have to be so extreme but it seems that there is a general cultural norm to adhere to instructions of those in a position of power. Lord Kitchener, who was Sectary State for War at the time this poster was produced, would have been seen as an authoritative figure and hence was used to encourage conformity.
Secondly, by omitting explicitly stating the desired response to this poster (i.e. to enrol in the army) self-generated persuasion is being used. This means that the audience reads the message and comes up with their own solution (Pratkanis, 2007). Research suggests that self-generated persuasion has more lasting implications because the individual feels a greater responsibility for the decision made (Pratkanis, 2007). In other words, the statement ‘Your country need you’ should promote more internal evaluation than if the tag line had been ‘Enrol to the army’ and hence is more likely to result in the desired outcome.
Thirdly a crucial element of the phrase is the manipulation of emotion, in terms of responsibility and guilt. This sense of responsibility is enhanced by the pointing figure and the larger font used for ‘you’ which visually singles outs the viewer. Pratkanis (2007) suggests that by evoking guilt due to an individual’s lack of action they will be motivated to repair this negative emotion and subsequent undesirable self-image. Although Stark and Frenkel (2013) found that the message used to make an individual feel guilty should not be overtly rude or hostile because it can mean individuals become resentful. This poster, although seeking to evoke guilt, defines the issue in a positive manner which may evoke feelings of self-efficacy of the role that individual could play in the war effort.
The need for this poster, and the others of its kind, to inspire enlistment was fundamental in an era when persuasion could not be done through many of media channels, such as the internet and television.
By Alex Bamsey
Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Inﬂuence: Science and practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Milgram, S (1963). "Behavioral Study of Obedience". Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67 (4), 371–378.
Pratkanis, A. R. (Ed.). (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Psychology Press.
Stark, J & Frenkel, D (2013) Using Fear and Guilt to Persuade: What Might Empirical Research Tell Mediators? Dispute Resolution Magazine, 26-29.