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

Making origami from a slice of beef pastrami..?

Last year, British Gas released a campaign promoting their ‘Hive’ app, allowing you to control your heating and water from your mobile, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  Whilst the product itself is a good idea and the catchy tune is appealing, one thing that is lacking is relatability.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t even know any giant trout, let alone kick about with them.  Similarly, it’s not a habit of mine to surf on taxis.  The company is using the extreme situation template to portray the message that even if you were to be doing these activities, you would still have access to your heating with Hive.  However, the fact that none of the examples given in the song are common situations makes it hard to relate to and it comes across as just a bunch of words that (sort of) rhyme.  Without highlighting how the app would actually benefit your life as an average person, the advert is less persuasive.

One way in which this issue could be addressed would be to use the technique imagery sells.  The lyrics of the song could be changed to include more realistic and plausible situations in which having the Hive app would be useful, for example when in bed or returning home earlier than planned.  The viewers would then be forced to imagine themselves in that scenario and picture themselves enjoying the benefits of the app.  Research supports this technique, showing that by simply imagining adopting a course of action, the likelihood of carrying out that behaviour increases.

Anderson (1983) asked participants to imagine and sketch a cartoon panel for descriptions of 6 target behaviours, including donating blood and taking a spring break trip.  Subjects were split into three groups, where the main character of each script was to be either themselves, their best friend, or a person they know and dislike.  For each description, there was a positive and negative version; in the positive version the behaviour was performed and in the negative it was not.  Each target behaviour was presented either one, two or three times, and participants were instructed to draw a different sketch for each.  Thus, each subject imagined and drew 12 cartoons, half in each direction (positive/negative) and under three frequencies (one/two/three presentations).

Before and after the task, participants indicated their intentions of performing each of the target behaviours on a 10-point scale, ranging from “will definitely” to “will definitely not”. The aim of the experiment was to see whether intention to perform the target behaviours changed depending on who the main character was and the direction and frequency of the script.  Figure 1 shows the results.

Participants in the ‘self’ condition had significantly greater intention changes than those in the ‘friend’ or ‘disliked person’ groups, which had no significant changes. Intentions also increased for positive scripts and decreased for negative scripts and were greater when the script was presented more frequently.  These findings highlight that by imagining yourself carrying out a behaviour, you are more likely to intend to actually do it.  However, this effect is not seen when imagining other people, and is more prominent when imagining it more frequently.  

In relation to the Hive advert, if the song lyrics and animations were changed to make the viewer imagine themselves experiencing the benefit of using the app in numerous everyday situations, they would be more likely to get the app and carry out these behaviours.


Anderson, C. A. (1983). Imagination and expectation: The effect of imagining behavioral scripts on personal influences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(2), 293-305.

Caroline Glascock

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