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 13, 2015

Where Help A Child Went Wrong



In July 2014 one of the largest marketing agencies, Ogilvy and Mather, produced this advert for Feed A Child. The South African charity aimed to use shock tactics to raise donations but the campaign was met with complaints of racism and unhelpful stereotyping.

The advert falls short in a number of ways. Firstly, the use of the statistic “the average domestic dog eats better than millions of children” is imprecise and unclear. On what scale have they measured how well someone eats? How many millions of children? Next, the ignorant stereotyping which is used portrays the charity as out of touch with the population. The lack of varied examples portrays a racial divide and stereotypes which rightly angered many.

Finally, one key flaw in the effectiveness of this message is the way the advert makes the target feel. The people privileged enough to donate are effectively being criticised for not doing more in the past and treating those less privileged badly. Research has shown that providing individuals with an initial prosocial label will increase their helping later on (Strenta & DeJong, 1981).

In their experiment, Strenta and DeJong advertised a personality characteristic questionnaire as the reason for their research. At the end of the questionnaire the participant was assigned to either a prosocial, intelligent, salient or control condition. The program told the prosocial group their scores indicate they are “kind and thoughtful”, the intelligent condition were told they are more intelligent, the salient condition were told the study aimed to measure kindness to others using the questionnaire results and the controls were given no feedback at all. A confederate then dropped papers and books in front of the participant and their helping behaviour was recorded, with results being shown in table 1 below.

Table 1. Mean helping scores for each experimental condition.

The results show the prosocial group had the highest proportion of participants helping. Once they had helped, the prosocial group picked up the most cards, helped for longest and were quickest to help. Strenta and DeJong argue the results suggest the label makes that trait more prominent in the target's self-image, making those labelled as prosocial more prepared to help others.


Had Feed A Child incorporated a strategy whereby they tell people of all the excellent donations they had received and how this had helped fight poverty, it could place the target under a more prosocial self-image, making them more prepared to donate. Instead, the negative image they are labelled under will fail to enhance helping behaviours.

Strenta, A., & DeJong, W. (1981). The effect of a prosocial label on helping behavior. Social Psychology Quarterly, 44, 142-147.

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