While searching for a persuasive message that doesn’t work, I happened to come across the perfect example in the form of a 1960s advertisement for a children’s cereal – Post’s “Sugar Rice Krinkles”.
The company made the unfortunate choice of Krinkles the Creepy Clown to star in their advertisement, clearly forgetting that children were the target audience. If I were a child, I would honestly hide behind the sofa after seeing the first five seconds of the advert, during which a rooster crows to indicate morning and the clown’s head appears in the door of a tiny house, exclaiming “Breakfast!” with an eerie grin on its face. If any of you have read or watched Stephen’s King’s “It”, you will understand when I say that Krinkles reminds me of Pennywise (for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, Pennywise is not a friendly clown…).
Moving away from slandering the advertisement, I can see that the idea was that a “friendly clown” would appeal to children and make them believe that “Sugar Rice Krinkles” really is the “greatest cereal treat on Earth”. However, if using the “High Status-Admirer Altercast”, i.e. a figure admired by children, whose approval they would want to win or who they aspire to be like, I think it would have been better to use a well-liked character from a children’s TV show at the time or a sports personality that children might look up to. This character or person could then explain that “Sugar Rice Krinkles” is the most fun cereal or how eating it will make you grow up healthy and strong and become amazing at sports.
Research by Leonard Bickman (1971) was in favour of this technique. The experiment involved 206 people using specified phone booths in Grand Central Station and Kennedy Airport as subjects. The stimulus persons (3 male, 3 female) were dressed to appear to be either of a high or low social status. 28 student judges were shown photographs of these people and all agreed that they appeared to be of that particular status, proving the validity of the experiment.
During the experiment, the stimulus person entered one of the specified phone booths, left a dime on the shelf in front of the phone and left. The stimulus person then observed whether the next person to enter the booth (the subject) took the dime or not and approached them two minutes after they had entered the booth. The stimulus person would tap on the phone booth door and say: “Excuse me, Sir [Miss], I think I might’ve left a dime in this phone booth a few minutes ago. Did you find it?” They would then record if the dime was returned or not.
The results showed that 77% of the subjects returned the dime when the stimulus person was in high status clothing, whereas only 38% of the subjects returned the dime when the stimulus person was in low status clothing (as illustrated in the bar graph below). The experiment thus shows that people of a seemingly higher status have more influence on others than those of a lower status. Considering sports stars and celebrities to also be of high status in this sense, the research suggests that using such a person in an advertisement would prove to be effective.
"The Effect of Social Status on the Honesty of Others", Leonard Bickman, the Journal of Social Psychology, 1971, 85, p.87-92