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, February 13, 2015

“Cheat on your girlfriend, not on your workout.”

A controversial Reebok advertisement was removed from display in 2012 following widespread complaints. The poster, which ran at a gym affiliated with the brand in Germany, was intended to motivate people to go to the gym, and to therefore increase the brands sales, with the slogan “Cheat on your girlfriend, not on your workout”. You can even get a t-shirt saying it.

Instead, however, it was met with consumer backlash and the sportswear firm retracted the advert and acknowledged that it was ‘offensive’. I, too, personally find this very offensive and shocking and it definitely negatively affects my view of the brand. While shock advertising can be an effective technique in some instances (Dahl, Frankenberger & Manchanda, 2003), research shows that people are less likely to purchase a product if they perceive the brand’s advertisement to be offensive (Phau & Prendergast, 2001).

Reebok would have done a better job if they took a leaf out of Adidas’ book of advertising techniques. They create a much more successful advertisement (see below) by associating fitness with positive extreme consequences. The aim of using the extreme consequences template is to present an extreme consequence of an emphasised product attribute, or a brand’s values (Goldenberg, Mazursky & Solomon, 1999). Here, Adidas imply that going to the gym will make you strong enough to pull a giant rubber tyre, which although some really strong people can, it’s quite an unlikely and extreme consequence for the layperson. According to Goldenberg (1999), the consequence does not have to be absurd, it has to appear familiar and not unreasonable to the target audience, which in the case of this advert is executed well, as the extreme consequence presented is not an impossible thing to do.

Goldenberg, Mazursky and Solomon (1999) investigated whether the utilization of extreme situations in advertisements affected people’s judgements of them. In the first part of the study, three groups of participants create advertisements for an anti-dandruff shampoo product, although they differed in the amount of training they received prior to this. The first group was asked to generate advertisements without any training, the second was trained to utilize the free association method in generating advertisements, and the third group was trained to utilize a creativity template – one of which was the extreme situation template. In the second part of the study, a different set of participants rated the advertisements on several key advertising outcome scales.

Table 1 shows participants mean judgements of the advertisement that utilized the extreme situation template to sell an anti-dandruff shampoo.  The results show that training in the extreme situation template yielded advertisements that were rated significantly higher on ratings on creativity, humour and attitudes towards the brand itself, than training in free association or no training at all.

                                           Table 1. Mean judgements.

Thus, the extreme situation template is an effective advertising technique, which is likely to create higher attitudes toward the brand, as opposed to the offensive technique used in the Reebok advertisement, which is likely to negatively affect people’s brand attitude.

Unsurprisingly, Reebok’s sales dropped 3% in the fourth quarter compared to their previous year, while Adidas sales grew by 14%.


Dahl, D.W., Frankenberger, K.D., & Manchanda, R. V. (2003). Does It Pay to Shock? Reactions to Shocking and Nonshocking Advertising Content among University Students. Journal of Advertising Research, 43, 268-280.

Goldenberg, J., & Mazursky, D., & Solomon, S. (1999). The Fundamental Templates of Quality Ads. Marketing Science, 18(3), 333-351.

Phau, I., & Prendergast, G. (2001). Offensive advertising. Journal Of Promotion Management, 7(1-2), 71-90.

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