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.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Be Humankind.

The message of this advert is clear; we are fortunate enough to have access to the most basic of human needs (food and water), often taking this for granted. Meanwhile, an overwhelming two thirds of the world are deprived of these necessities and view them as “luxuries”. Oxfam stresses that we should be grateful and not exploit these needs, but instead we should empathise and bear some responsibility in helping those who are less privileged and suffering as a result of this deprivation, through donating to the charity. Moreover, the advert states that we should not only feel guilty about this injustice but we should also feel angry about it, and we should funnel this anger into “building a better world”.  

The advert uses the persuasive emotional tactic “guilt sells”. Using this tactic, charity adverts typically invoke existential guilt (guilt experienced when comparing your wellbeing to others) to guilt-trip individuals into donating to the cause. Donation is an escape to the uncomfortable guilty feelings induced by the advert and a chance to repair ones’ damaged self-image.

A study conducted by Lwin and Phau (2008) investigated the use of this tactic to see if there was a relationship between existential guilt and charitable behaviour, whilst also taking into consideration whether the individual felt they were being manipulated. Participants were asked to complete surveys, giving their opinion on a specific charitable organisation and then watching a broadcast of a real advert from the same organisation that used existential guilt to encourage donations. After watching the advert, participants were then asked to complete a survey on their opinion towards the organisation (to measure any changes in opinion), inferences of manipulative intent (whether they felt the brand was being manipulative) and donating behaviour intentions.

The results of the survey are summarised in the table below:

The results show a positive relationship between existential guilt and donation behaviour intentions. However, IMI (inferences of manipulative intent) was not found to moderate the relationship between donating behaviour intentions and existential guilt. The study reaches the conclusion that existential guilt in adverts does in fact increase donating behaviour and that we are highly tolerant of charitable adverts raising existential guilt; they are not necessarily seen as manipulative. What this may mean for Oxfam is that their tactic of inducing existential guilt in their advert is successful in motivating readers to donate to their worthy cause.


Lwin, M., & Phau, I. (2008). Exploring existential guilt appeals in the context of charitable advertisements. In Spanjaard, D., Denize, S., & Sharma, N. (Eds.). Proceedings of Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference. Olympic Park, Sydney: University of Western Sydney.

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

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