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

I'm not a whale!!

In this advertisement, Peta, a large international animal rights group are advising consumers to lose weight by going vegetarian, whilst using one of their very famous and well known arguments “save the whales”. They are using a fear appeal, suggesting that larger people and non-vegetarians on the beach will be seen as fat whales, giving vegetarianism as the solution. This may not be effective as it insults its target audience, and only gives a vague solution to their fear appeal problem. Many people may not know where to start with vegetarianism, and the ad provides no source where they can find further information. Messages without specific, doable recommendations tend to make the consumer avoid the issue completely, demonstrating this billboard may have had the opposite effect to what it intended, (Maddux & Rogers, 1983).

A more effective solution would have been to use a just plain folks: similarity altercast method. This method reinforces how similar the audience is to the person in the ad, informing them that their behaviours and opinions can easily to change to the target one (in this case, vegetarianism). For example, the ad could have shown an average “all American” family, looking healthy and happy, with a tagline suggesting they were once larger and unhealthier but they went vegetarian and lost the blubber. This would reach a wide audience of consumers, who would see the billboard as a realistic reminder of how they could help their family to be healthier. It is important that the family on the billboard are ‘just plain folks’, so that similarities may be struck between them and a wide range of members of the public. E.g. they could be a family of 4 with a dog, making all members of families of 4 feel similar, and likely to sway to their opinion, or all dog owners feel similar. This has been effective in many studies, with even seemingly irrelevant similarities influencing opinions, for example, music preference.

In a study by Stotland, Zander and Natsoulas (1964), female participants were taken into a cubicle and given microphones through which to speak to the experimenter, and other participants. In reality these microphones were dead, and they were listening to a pre-recorded transcript. The participant was told that the other people she could hear were person A and B and she was C and that after each question she was to write down their responses and her own. First though, they all listened to various melodies and stated their favourites, and the participant was made aware that participant A or B happened to like most of the same ones as her, making them similar. The participants then stated which nonsense syllable out of a set they most preferred, out of a set of two shown to them on cards. The participant previously recorded A and B’s preferences (the first syllable or the second syllable) before choosing her own. She was led to believe her microphone broke, meaning the others could not hear her response. The participant then responded to a questionnaire about her preference of names, in which she was also asked to say what she thought A and B’s preferences would be.  

As the table above shows, generalization of interpersonal similarity was highest with people who strongly preferred one of the songs, and they were more likely to be aware of their similarity with the confederate who showed the same preferences. 37 of those with strong musical preferences rated themselves as most similar to the confederate with the same preferences as themselves, vs. only 11 who did the same with weaker musical preferences.  Therefore, it was found that participants noticed similarities between themselves and the other participant, and tended to agree with the person they perceived as musically similar to themselves, choosing the same syllables as them, provided that her opinions on the music were strong. Participants also projected their preferences onto the person they perceived as being similar to them, stating that they would prefer the same names they did.

This demonstrates that, for example, the Peta billboard could instead have shown a family of four (the most common family number, therefore the most similar to a wide range of people) supporting going vegetarian, as it would make people think this was a choice they could easily make as well.    


Maddux, J. E., & Rogers, R. W. (1983). Protection motivation and self-efficacy: A revised theory of fear appeals and attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 19(5), 469-479.

Stotland, E., Zander, A., & Natsoulas, T. (1964). Generalization of interpersonal similarity. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 62(2), 250-256.

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