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, January 22, 2015

How do you sell a build-your-own-kipper set?

LEGO originally released this now iconic television advertisement, featuring the Tommy Cooper-like voiceover, in 1981. The video depicts a mouse made of LEGO having an encounter with a cat as they both build themselves into new and different designs, all made from LEGO bricks, in an attempt to overpower the other, as a means of demonstrating the versatility of LEGO products. The ad was aired once again in 2008, as part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations. The ad employs several persuasive techniques, relevant to the different time periods it was aired, specifically relying on celebrity endorsement and ending without an explicit conclusion in 1981, and relying on nostalgia and being a part of the company’s history 27 years later in 2008. The focus of this article is the lack of an explicit message conclusion.

The persuasive technique of omitting a conclusion from the end of the information a communicator is supplying to another, is based on the assumption that the recipient of said information goes to the effort of extracting a conclusion from the information themselves. The fact the recipient drew this conclusion themselves makes the information more compelling and more likely for the recipient to adopt the opinion the communicator intended. This had been a merely speculated theory for a long time, until a recent study which investigated the concept alongside a manipulation of how involved the participants felt with what was being advertised.

Sawyer & Howard (1991) compared the results of open-ended (no conclusion) and closed-ended (ended with a conclusion) advertisements. Participants were given a booklet of ads, supposedly for pre-testing before they were launched, with one specifically being the test ad, either for a razor blade or a toothbrush company. Depending on the condition, this ad was either open- or closed-ended. Participant involvement with the ad was then manipulated by stating they would receive either a razor or toothbrush from 1 of the 4 brands on offer (one being from the test ad brand), and high-involvement participants were told the products were to be tested in their city, whereas low-involvement participants were told it would be tested elsewhere. After going through the ads, the participants were given a questionnaire to complete, including open-ended recall questions, questions about their perception of the ads and attitudes towards the product and which of the products they would like to receive for free during the process.

Below: Sawyer & Howard's (1991) findings:

The experimenters found positive results for the open-ended ads influencing the decision of the high-involvement participants, who consistently demonstrated a positive attitude towards the target brand and intentions to purchase it. This is evidenced in the high-involvement participants by their increased attitude towards using the brand (6.9 in open-ended ads as opposed to 5.9 in closed-ended), a higher brand purchase intention (.97 as opposed to .54) and higher percentage of immediately chosing that brand as their free gift (84.4% as opposed to 59%).

The LEGO advertisement fits into this technique by avoiding explicitly suggesting the viewer purchases their products and by also avoiding directly advertising any specific products; the ad merely advertises the concept of LEGO, allowing the viewer to have full unrestricted choice of LEGO products later on. The amusing nature of the ad and the presence of the Tommy Cooper-like voiceover for the story portrayed in the ad, and emphasis of the creative concept of LEGO, gives the viewer the high-involvement status. Especially when the ad was re-aired in 2008, the ad invokes sentiments of nostalgia and the idea of being a part of the long history of the company’s products for the viewer, engaging them more with the concept of the ad.

Through this, the viewer is not explicitly shoved into buying LEGO bricks, but decides for themselves that they and their children should be able to build their own submarine-eating Kippers too.

Sawyer, A., G. & Howard, D., J. (1991). Effects of omitting conclusions in advertisements to involved and uninvolved audiences. Journal of Marketing Research, 28, 467-474.

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