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, February 6, 2014

A little bit of magic...

Disneyland. Every kid’s dream. It’s magical and exciting and bright and colourful and super expensive. Children would have to save their pocket money for a thousand years to be able to afford to take their families and are obviously too young to go alone, so Disney targets the mummies and daddies. But why would a 30-something want to take a couple of bratty children to an over-priced land of more bratty children and irritatingly positive adults dressed up as mice and princesses? For the same reason I’ll probably take my children when I have them: we want our children happy and this advert from Disney gives parents the perfect opportunity to do just that!

The advert for Disney World shows several ‘home videos’ of children being told that they are going to Disneyland and their subsequent reactions to the news. For the parent, the intention is that they will see a family with young children – just like theirs. Research has shown that we like people who are similar to us, (Festinger, 1954) – this works for both adults and children! Jiang et al. (2010) added to the extensive library of evidence by finding that even incidental similarities, such as having the same birthplace as the seller, increased the likelihood that the consumer completed a sale. The intention of the advert on children is that they see and relate to the children, prompting them to ask “WHEN AM I GOING TO DISNEYLAND?” The affect of similarity on compliance is just as clear in children. Murray et al. (1984) found that school based anti-smoking programs worked better when the leaders were the same age as the learners than when adults were teaching.

As well as identifying with the families, the advert also evokes emotion in the parents. As outlined by Pratkanis (2007), when an emotion is aroused, other psychological processes are provoked. This often involves motivating behaviours to avoid negative feelings, (Tangney et al., 1996). With that in mind, profiteers aim to offer the consumer a way of escaping the adverse emotions. In other words, say “yes” to your little angel so as to avoid the overwhelming guilt associated with saying “no” and, therefore, saving yourself a little anguish.

The end of this advert is particularly effective: “The magic starts the moment you tell them....So when are you going to tell them?” In asking a rhetorical question, they’ve really got you. Firstly, the audience is being asked directly, drawing in their attention even more and causing them to process the message, (Burnkrant & Howard, 1984). Secondly, the message is much more effective so there is a higher chance that you will ponder over that question and, hence, you are more likely to comply and book your family a holiday, (Ahluwalia & Burnkrant, 2004).

So, who’s taking me to Disneyland?


Ahluwalia, R. & Burnkrant, R. E. (2004). Answering questions about questions: A persuasion knowledge perspective for understanding the effects of rhetorical questions. Journal of Consumer Research, 31, 1, 26-42.

Burnkrant, R. E., & Howard, D. J. (1984). Effects of the use of introductory rhetorical questions versus statements on information processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 6, 1218.

Festinger, L. (1954) A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.

Jiang, L., Hoegg, J., Dahl, D. W. & Chattopadhyay, A. (2010). The persuasive role of incidental similarity on attitudes and purchase intentions in a sales context. Journal of Consumer Research, 36, 5, 778-791.

Murray et al., (1984) – currently cannot find this paper! Somewhere within Google Scholar – will add when I find it!!

Pratkanis, A. R. (Ed.). (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The Science of Social Influence: Advances and future progress. New York: Psychology Press.

Tangney, J. P., Miller, R. S., Flicker, L. & Barlow, D. H. (1996). Are shame, guilt, and embarrassment distinct emotions? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1256-1269.

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