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.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

You're Not The Only One Who Pays



The primary persuasion technique here is to use guilt. The feeling of responsibility for a transgression (leaving the light on) induces the desire to make restitution in order to mend the self-image that we are not unfeeling human beings. It has been well researched that this emotional “tactic” of guilt sells is particularly effective and even induces positive attitudes, especially if the advertisement are not overtly manipulative (Cotte, Coulter, & Moore, 2005). In this case, WWF has made sure not to use too explicit images which can lead to scepticism and over arousal which has a counterintuitive effect.

Simultaneously, the successful execution of this guilt tactic is the vivid image that sits in the backdrop of this advertisement. The subtlety of polar bears and ice bergs steals the limelight from the centrepiece of the lamp. This is a form of vivid appeal which is emotionally interesting; concrete and image provoking; and immediate (Nisbett & Ross, 1980). Along with the caption of “you’re not the only one who pays”, this advertisement induces, provides and encourages the audience to generate their arguments and subsequent course of action (Pratkanis, 2007). What is important here is that the situation has to be subtle and omnipresent such that audience ends up believing and internalising the generated attitude (Miller & Woznlak, 2001). This is known as self-generated persuasion which is one of the most effective means of influence (Pratkanis, 2007). The audience cannot help but be overwhelmed with guilt, and the urge to engage in restorative processes, whereby the most immediate and practical solution which is very doable would be to: switch off the light.

As such, this advertisement can also be considered to us the creativity template of extreme consequences (Goldenberg, Mazursky, & Solomon, 1999). The simple act of not switching the lights off (a situation set) is seen to directly lead to a paramount consequence of global warming and the earth (animals and nature) suffering. When put into perspectives, the amount of electricity or natural resources used to fuel that light (the actual consequence set) is probably infinitesimal to cause such damage. However, the familiarity of the consequence makes it not unreasonable. Coupled with guilt, and the self-generated persuasion process of vivid images to complement, this extreme consequences template usage is effective and persuasive.


Cotte, J., Coulter, R. A., & Moore, M. (2005). Enhancing or disrupting guilt: The role of ad credibility and perceived manipulative intent. Journal of Business Research, 58(3), 361-368. 

Goldenberg, J., Mazursky, D., & Solomon, S. (1999). The fundamental templates of quality ads. Marketing Science, 18 (3), 333 – 351.

Miller, R. L., & Woznlak, W. (2001). Counter-attitudinal advocacy: Effort vs. self-generation of arguments. Current Research in Social Psychology, 6 (4), 46 – 57.

Nisbett, R. E., & Ross, L. (1980). Human Inference: Strategies and shortcomings of social judgment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. New York: Psychology Press.

Li Ying Fong

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