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 29, 2015

MasterCard: There are some things money can’t buy.

This advertisement is one of many in a series made my MasterCard for their ‘ for everything else, there’s MasterCard’ Campaign. All of the adverts within this series begin off by pricing certain activities or experiences we have all done or can identify with in real life. However, right at the end of these adverts they always end with stating that the life experience you actually get from all these is ‘priceless’. In other words, they are trying to suggest that you can’t put a price on happy life experiences. 

In this particular advert, MasterCard has cleverly used the persuasive technique of Association by linking the spending of money (on a plain ticket home) with a heartwarming, positive, happy experience of seeing your family and spending the holidays with loved ones at christmas time. An experience, as I’m sure a lot of people would agree, that is ‘priceless’. This technique suggests that by linking one concept with another positive or negative concept, you then transfer the meaning of the second concept to the first. In this case, MasterCard have successfully linked spending money with the happy feeling of spending time with loved ones. Therefore, the positive feeling from the experience of being with family/loved ones will now be transferred to the concept of spending money.  

Staats & Staats (1958) show the effect of Association in the pairing of masculine names with either positive or negative words. Ninety one participants were split into 2 separate groups (Group 1 & Group 2) and were told they would be taking part in a study which is looking at how words are learned through different stimuli (Visually and Auditory). In Experiment II, they were visually presented with 6 male names on a projection screen in a random order for 5 seconds each. The names used were Harry, Tom, Jim, Ralph, Bill and Bob. One second after each name was presented on the screen, the experimenter then said one positive or negative evaluative word which it was to be paired with. 

In Group 1, the name Tom was paired with positive evaluative words and Bill was paired with negative words. In Group 2, this was reversed. This method was then repeated 18 times in a random order. Participants’ attitude towards each name was then tested using the Osgood & Suci (1955) 7 point scale on a pleasant to unpleasant continuum (1= Pleasant, 7 = Unpleasant).  

As seen in Table 1., results showed that people in both groups had rated names significantly higher on the scale (more unpleasant) when they has been paired with negative evaluative names. Both groups also show that when the names were paired with positive evaluative words, participants rated their attitudes significantly lower on the scale (more pleasant). In other words, these results show that the positive or negative meaning from the paired evaluative words have been transferred onto the masculine names through association and , as a result, their attitudes towards them have been altered accordingly.  

The MasterCard advertisement therefore applies this power of association to persuade viewers that a positive, happy experience will result from the use of this product, which is therefore desirable.


Osgood, C. E., & Suci, G. J. (1955). Factor analysis of meaning. Journal of experimental psychology, 50, 325.

Staats, A. W., & Staats, C. K. (1958). Attitudes established by classical conditioning. Journal of Abnormal and  Social Psychology, 57, 37-40. 

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