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

Disrupt-then-reframe the resistance to banner ads



 
Everybody knows of those little slideshow advert boxes or banners that pop up and play through on the side of the screen when you click on almost any website. They tend to consist of anything from 2 – 5 images played one after another involving some meaningful zoom and pan effect over each picture before stopping on the final one with a link to take you to the business’ site to make a purchase. The image above shows a selection of end screens from some advert slideshows. The preceding shots of each included some trivial reason why I ought to purchase the product or a highlight of its best features. There is, however, a failure with a large number of these advertisements; the above three provide a small sample of this error. Davis and Knowles (1999) note that many everyday attempts at persuasion are met with an approach-avoidance conflict in the audience, which while involving the target wanting to enjoy a product or service, it simultaneously comprises feelings of resistance due to a desire to avoid, in this case, distracting and irritatingly placed advertisements. Many of us don’t pay attention to a flashing up advert for TalkTalk or a country break because they’re things we see frequently and we are further put off by the imposing nature of such a commercial.
In what way then could an advert in this location and of this style be improved? The aforementioned Davis and Knowles conducted an experiment in which they asserted the success of a newly coined persuasion technique; Disrupt-Then-Reframe (DTR). The theory behind the technique being that if a disruption or confusion is created for the target then their initial resistance is diverted, the puzzlement from the disruption then increases compliance with the reframing suggestion. Their initial study involved two female experimenters selling packs of charity Christmas cards door-to-door. Sixty houses were sampled (which were only included in the data if the resident both answered the door and listened to the initial pitch). Each salesperson went to half the houses and spoke to the ‘participant’ briefly about the charity before asking if they wished to know the price of the cards. Each resident was randomly assigned a condition; DTR, Price only or Reframe only. In the ‘Price only’ condition the experimenter responded with; “They’re $3”, the ‘Reframe only’ condition with; “They’re $3. It’s a bargain.” And the DTR condition with; “They’re 300 pennies…that’s $3. It’s a bargain.” In the latter condition the ‘300 pennies’ information is used as a disruption technique, this is because it is an unexpected and unconventional response that temporarily confuses the recipient. This then allows the experimenter to posit the reframe in which she states the price in a conventional way and asserts the great value for money. The results of the experiment provided some strong supporting evidence for the hypothesis that the DTR is a powerful persuasive technique.

 
(Note that Study 2 and 3 were follow up experiments which provided further supporting evidence but which there was not enough space to discuss here)

The confirmation of the DTR technique can be seen in the above table which shows the percentage of compliance to be 65% in the DTR condition as opposed to 35% in the two other control conditions. A chi squared test demonstrated this to be rather statistically significant (4.49, p < .05) and hence providing support for the effectiveness of the technique.  
So what has this technique got to do with the spam-type adverts discussed at the beginning? Many people are naturally inclined to have a resistance to such adverts, such as in the experiment people are inclined to resist door-to-door sales. A way in which this could be challenged would be to interrupt the target’s resistance by placing a disruption on the first slide of the advert. Seeing as the study supported a disruption using numbers it seems sensible to posit a similar notion; for example a TalkTalk plan that cost 500 pennies or Graze boxes that weren’t free in the 1st and 5th weeks but cost half a penny each time. These would momentarily disrupt the audience’s resistance and replace it with surprise - 500 pennies, and certainly half a penny, is an unusual way to express a quantity of money. The following slide of the advert could then emphasise the impeccable value for money in the reframing part of the technique. According to the experimental results such a method would increase compliance with the advert and boost sales. Of course we would only want one company to transform their box or banner adverts in this way or the disruption would lose its element of surprise and potentially nullify the effect. Nevertheless it would be intriguing to know if it would work.

 
Davis, B. P., & Knowles, E. S. (1999). A disrupt-then-reframe technique of social influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(2), 192.

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