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.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Save the Whales... Lose the blubber: Go Vegetarian (PETA)


PETA (dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all animals) put up this ad in an attempt to stop animal abuse by going vegetarian and thereby, not eat animal products. It seems as if, while trying to persuade people to become vegetarian and thus be against animal cruelty, through the simple solution technique, which is about persuading by offering a simple solution to a manufactured or more complex problem, they forgot about human cruelty. This ad is insensitive and insulting, trying to undermine the confidence of overweight women. It objectifies bodies to promote the personal, moral decision of becoming vegetarian and dehumanizes women’s body through the slogan of “Save the Whales.” Thus, it is even offensive to women (and men) of all sizes and is not in harmony with the image that PETA represents. Also, there are overweight people out there who are vegetarians, which may not have occurred to PETA when raising awareness through this advert. Therefore, PETA is trying to get the simple solution across, that by going vegetarian, one will lose weight. There is the possibility that this can happen, but it does not necessarily mean that it will. People struggle with weight for a variety of reasons and switching to a vegetarian diet does not necessarily fix everything overnight.

Thus, this ad shocks the audience, but is not very effective. It will most likely not make fat people become vegetarian. Shock advertising, like this one, does grab one’s attention (Dahl, Frankenberger & Manchanda, 2003)Shock advertising is created to affect emotionally and shake thinking, to touch people at fundamental level and encourage them to take actions.  

Dahl, Frankenberger and Manchanda (2003) looked at the reactions to shocking and nonshocking advertising content among university student. They analyzed this in two laboratory studies, conducted in the context of HIV/AIDS prevention, to examine the effectiveness of shock advertising in comparison to the commonly used appeals of fear and information. What they found, was that shocking content in an advertisement significantly increased attention, benefitted memory and positively influenced behaviour among a group of university students.



The Preliminary Analyses shows that shock advertisement was perceived to be more shocking, the fear advertisement more frightening and the information advertisement more educational, with no differences found across three for likeable and understandable manipulation check measures.

They then compared ratings of the obscene and startling nature of the three advertisements, and the shock advertisement was perceived as more obscene than the fear advertisement and the information advertisement. The shock advertisement was also shown to be more startling than the fear advertisement and the information advertisement. Thus shocking advertising both startles audiences and violates societal norms in its execution.

With the main analysis, when asked to indicate which poster displayed drew to their attention the most, a greater percentage of subjects in the shock advertisement condition chose the experimental advertisement, compared to the fear and information conditions. Thus, norm violation is the key to heightened awareness of shocking advertising content.

Therefore, with this advert, PETA has gone too far, where through shock advertising with using a rather overweight woman, it has risked damaging the reputation of the brand it is trying to enrich. Therefore, it succeeds in grabbing the attention but undermines vegetarianism and an animal cruelty free life at the same time. 

The technique used, of shock advertising is not a bad one, and as supported above by Dahl, Frankenberger and Manchanda (2003) is effective. Therefore, it is not that much about changing the technique, but changing the advert yet still complying with this technique, but focusing more on what PETAs aims really are, which is to advocate for animal rights, not offending people. 


Dahl, D.W., Frankenberger, K.D., & Manchada, R.W. (2003). Does it pay to shock? Reactions to shocking and nonshocking advertising content among university students. Journal of Advertising Research, September, 268-289.



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