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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Go compare yourself off a cliff

I imagine we're all painfully familiar with the above advert. For anyone who has been lucky enough to have missed it, the advert is for a website where you can compare quotes for various financial services, such as insurance, holidays and home energy costs. The primary persuasive tactic they have (mis-) used is repetition. In a nutshell, a man with a silly moustache repeatedly sings 'go compare' (the name of the website and their slogan) in an operatic tenor.

Repetition of a message should increase how persuasive its effect is, at least it should according to research conducted by Zajonc (1968), who suggested this work via the mere exposure mechanism. People prefer stimuli (messages, faces, paintings etc) that they are more familiar with (have been more exposed to) and so by repeating the message, you expose them to it more and so increase their liking for it. One of Zajonc's (1968) experiments used made up 'Chinese' characters as stimuli, and asked participants to rate the 'goodness' of their meaning (how positive they thought the word the character represented would be). This was used as a measure of preference, assuming prefered words would be given higher ratings for 'goodness' of meaning. Zajonc (1968) predicted higher frequency characters (those participants had been exposed to more) would receive higher 'goodness' of meaning ratings, which they did find and are reflected in the table below.

The go compare advert's use of repetition does not increase positive feelings towards financial comparison websites or opera singers, a civilian casualty of this terrible advert. Rather the repetition becomes annoying and distracts from the actual message of the advert. Repetition in advertising has been found to be counterproductive in some situations as it leads to 'wear out' - the viewers become bored of the message (Appel, 1971) and this may account for why the go compare advert does not have the desired affect.

Appel, V. (1971). Advertising wear out. Journal of Advertising Research, 11, 11-13.
Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 1-27.

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