In 2008 the Home Office created a series of adverts (including the one above) as part of a £4million binge-drinking awareness campaign. A young girl is seen to be getting ready for a night out, a seemingly standard process for the majority of girls enticed by the thrilling yet sleazy world of clubbing. It is not until we see her tear her clothes, smear her make-up, rip her shoe apart and drag vomit into her hair that we begin to question her intentions, until the phrase ‘You wouldn’t start a night like this, so why end it that way?’ appears chillingly on our screens.
The idea of the commercial is to raise awareness of the effects of binge drinking in situations that young adults in particular can relate to. The advertisement makes use of some clever influential tactics which make the advert so provocative and memorable.
One interesting tactic that the advertisers exhibited was an influence tool with the aim to embarrass the target of an influential message. It is well known among society and researchers that when something embarrassing occurs, we typically strive to avoid it reoccurring as much as possible. Similar to guilt, embarrassment stimulates a feeling of a need to restore one’s self-image which can ultimately lead to compliance (Pratkanis, 2007). Research asserts that we strive to avoid embarrassing situations; in one study participants who were presented with a potentially embarrassing situation, by helping a stranger who had dropped some tampons, tended to help the stranger significantly less than participants who were confronted by a stranger who dropped envelopes (Foss & Crenshaw, 1978). Using this information, advertisers have a powerful tool of influence in their hands in which they can cleverly persuade people to avoid getting into an undesirable situation by presenting it to them and making them feel uncomfortable as a mere observer. With the idea that we avoid embarrassing situations, advertisers would predict that viewers would therefore be careful in the future to avoid the situation they observed in the advertisement. With this in mind, it would be expected that the Home Office advertisement should be a large success among the typically self-conscious young adults who venture on raucous nights out.
Another tactic demonstrated in this ad is the well documented negativity effect. Research suggests that negative information tends to receive greater weight and attention than positive information when making judgements (Pratkanis, 2007; Kanouse, 1984). A study found that negative information about US Presidential candidates was more influential than positive information during elections (Lau, 1982). Displaying a negative portrayal of binge drinking in this advert would, according to such research, make people consider the effects of drinking more due to the striking negativity of the advert which would as a result be more memorable.
A third tactic to be considered here is association, where an issue in society is linked to a negative concept with the aim of transferring meaning and consequence to the issue (Pratkanis, 2007). In this advert’s case, the creators are linking the appalling and somewhat disturbing appearance of the young girl to excessive drinking. Similarly the principle of association can also be attributed to the association that young adults have with drinking, as many of them could relate to having a ‘messy’ night out about town, and no doubt have seen either themselves or their peers in a similarly undesirable state. Association has proven effective in studies such as one which paired names with positive or negative words, and uncovered that the meanings paired with the words tended to transfer to the original names, creating an association (Staats and Staats, 1958).
So, according to these tactics and the research justifying their use, it would be expected that this advert would have a large impact on the target audience of binge-drinkers and party-goers, reducing the amount of wild binge-drinking. But after studying news headlines over the past 5 years, is this really the case?
Foss, R. D., & Crenshaw, N. C. (1978). Risk of embarrassment and helping. Social Behaviour and Personality: An international journal, 6, 243-245.
Kanouse, L. (1984). Explaining negativity biases in evaluation and choice behaviour: Theory and research. Advances in Consumer Research, 11, 703-708.
Lau, R. (1982). Negativity in political perception. Political Behaviour, 4, 353-377.
Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The Science of Social Influence. New York: Psychology Press.
Staats, A. W., & Staats, C. K. (1958) Attitudes established by classical conditioning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 57, 37-40.