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.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What's the bear got to do with it?

'Why is there a bear on that billboard?' my friend asked me as we walked passed this advert for Virgin Media in town. The fact that there was a random bear on this advert seemed to attract more attention than the actual message of the advert, and just caused confusion. This advert might work if you've seen the TV adverts for Virgin Media- I had to explain to my friend that in the TV advert, there's a "sofa bear" who likes to watch box sets, box sets which are sold as part of the Virgin Media package. So the bear makes sense if you've seen the TV adverts (sort of), but if you haven't, the bear is probably an ineffective persuasive technique; for example, I can't say I'm similar to the bear and will therefore buy the product because of similarity to the person trying to sell it, nor am I in awe of the bear or want to be like it (it's not particularly an authority figure!). So all in all, the use of the bear in this billboard advert seems confusing and ineffective.

Instead, a more persuasive technique would have been simply to have Usain Bolt promoting the product, as the use of celebrities to advertise a product has been shown to be effective. There are a number of reasons why the backing of a celebrity can help sell a product, including their physical attractiveness (which leads to liking, and liking leads to compliance), the use of the association tactic ('I like Usain Bolt, therefore I must like this product, because the two are associated'), social modelling ('If other people are using this product, I must do to'), and their high social status (Cialdini, 2007). Focusing on social status, celebrities occupy a very public and prestigious position in the status hierarchy, and as a result, others tend to admire and seek to be like the high-status person (perhaps by using the products they use) or win their approval (by buying the products we know they want us to buy). In social influence and persuasion terms, using this tactic to promote compliance is called the high status-admirer altercast tactic.

The influence of high status individuals on our behaviour has been demonstrated in many experiments. One classic experiment by Lefkowitz, Blake and Mouton (1955) demonstrates this particularly well. In this study, high status was induced by having a confederate wear clothes that are representative of high status in our society; the well-tailored business suit. During the study phase, the business man crossed the road against the traffic signals, thereby breaking the law (named jaywalking, which is illegal in America). The researchers counted the number of pedestrians waiting on the side of the street, and the number who then followed the man across the street. This procedure was also carried out with the same man wearing neutral clothes (intermediate status) and as unshaven and in dirty work clothes (low status). In the control condition, the researchers measured how many people jaywalked when there was no confederate. Table 1 shows the results.
Percentage of violations
High status
Intermediate status
Low status
Table 1
Table 1 shows that just over 3 times as many people followed the confederate across the road when he was perceived to be of high status compared to intermediate status and nearly 6 times as many people crossed the road compared to when the man was perceived to be low status. In the low status condition, even fewer people crossed the road than without the presence of a confederate crossing at all, suggesting that people actively strive not to be associated with and copy those of low status.
Thus, the use of a celebrity, such as Usain Bolt, in the Virgin Media advert uses a tactic called the high status-admirer altercast, in which people have been demonstrated to be far more compliant to those in high status positions. Celebrities have a particularly high status in our society, thus explaining why this tactic alone works as a persuasive technique, without the need of a bear!
Cialdini, R.B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. NY; HarperCollins Publishers.
Lefkowitz, M., Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1955). Status factors in pedestrian violation of traffic signals. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51, 704-706.

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