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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Appealing or Demeaning?



Yves Saint Laurent’s (2000) poster advertisement for Opium perfume, featuring Sophie Dahl, was a failed attempt at using the physically attractive admirer altercast persuasive technique. As a result of releasing this campaign worldwide, the advert was banned due to its explicit content.

Often an attractive person will be seen as high-status, leading the recipients of the communicative message to admire the person and therefore wish to be part of their (branded) world. However the explicit use of sexuality in this advertisement resulted in negative stereotyping for women, missing the aim of their message.

Pratkanis (2000) performed several studies demonstrating the effects of correctional adjustments in evaluating individuals, primarily using gender stereotypes to form his studies. Study 1 in Pratkanis’ altercasting paper used short resumes of fictitious applicants for participants to gain a general view of the character, and then resulted in two questionnaires pertaining to these materials. Participants were split in to male evaluations (applicant: Mr. Christian Muller) and female evaluations (applicant: Mrs. Christiane Muller). The second questionnaire in this study assessed the impression of the applicant in 14 dimensions. It was explicitly mentioned that the purpose of the study was to find out whether the presented materials allowed their reader to develop a personal impression of the application. Then half of the participants were instructed to ensure there was no gender influence on their judgment, the other half were told nothing. The figure below depicts their results in a bar-graph format:

 Figure 1.



Figure 1. depicts results on an index showing the difference between two critical traits. More positive scores show higher consistency of judgment with the female stereotype. Individuals with no correction (instructed to avoid gender stereotypes) show more feminine traits to be associated with Mrs. Muller than to Mr. Muller. However participants with corrections showed reverse results, with more female characteristics being attributed to Mr. Muller, and less to the female fictitious applicant.

The results of this experiment show that the existing knowledge of a gender stereotype led participants to over-attribute opposing gender characteristics to avoid stereotyping. In relation to Yves Saint Laurent’s explicit advertisement, this means that the advert’s creators have over attributed female stereotypes (on the controversial topic of women as sexual objects) to the model, causing viewers to rebel against this view. As the perfume ad is a worldwide campaign it is over-exposed to the public eye, therefore bringing up issues of objectification and over-sexualisation, as opposed to a view of high-status beauty as intended.

For an advertisement to be effective in using the physically attractive admirer altercast, stereotypical imagery needs to be reduced to a subtle influencer in order to be effective. Pratkanis (2000) suggests that individuals are more prone to be affected by knowledge they believe to reflect idiosyncratic aspects of behaviour than normalised characteristics. As sexuality in mainstream society is still a controversial topic, a rebellion against this objectifying sexual image is inevitable; as shown by the adverts removal.

The results of Pratkanis’ (2000) research suggest that if a stereotype is not established then individuals will not over-attribute characteristics/expected behaviour to the target. Therefore YSL would benefit from portraying Sophie Dahl in a more subtle sexual way, playing on her beauty instead of making her a caricature of the female figure.  

Henrietta Esme Bennett


Pratkanis, A. R. (2000). Altercasting as an influence tactic. In D. J. Terry & M. A. Hogg (Eds.), Attitudes, behavior, and social context (pp. 201-226). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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