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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Your business won't be flowing for long

I was walking to the railway station when I happened to glance up at the billboard and I was disappointed with what I saw. In the advertisement, we see a plumber, smiling happily at the camera, holding up his tablet with a picture of a tap. The caption ‘business is flowing now customers find me online’ uses a pun to convey the concept that by having a website, your business will thrive. Apart from the slightly unclear objective of this governmental campaign (which I assume is to encourage small businesses to invest in a website), the advert doesn't excite or particularly make the viewer want to find out anything more about the campaign. Although they have attempted to use the concept of 'just plain folk' to convey their message, I think other techniques may have been more successful.

I propose that a more successful approach would be to use someone with a high status in business. Miller and Baseheart (1969) explored the persuasiveness of a message, depending on the source trustworthiness. Participants were assigned either to the high trustworthiness (former President Eisenhower) or low trustworthiness (former American Nazi Party leader, George Lincoln Rockwell) condition. Each participant read the same messages, which were 4 opinionated and non-opinionated statements. Each opinion statement was introduced with a paragraph identifying it as an excerpt from a recent press conference on the topic of physical fitness. Depending on trustworthiness condition, each opinion was attributed to one of the 2 sources mention above. After reading the statement, each participant indicated their attitude towards making the sale of cigarettes illegal. 

Table 1: Mean pretest and posttest trustworthiness ratings and mean changes in truthworthiness

Table 1 summarises the findings from the study. Results indicate that when the trustworthiness of the source was deemed as high, attitude change was more likely to occur since this produced a larger overall change in attitude (demonstrated by the larger score in the ‘change’ column). For example, high levels of trustworthiness, coupled with an opinionated statement, that was presented in a close minded way, achieved an attitude change of -5.26, compared with the same condition but low trustworthiness of the source, which only achieved a change in attitude of 3.83 (non-significant). The study found that those participants who read statements from a highly trustworthy source were far more likely to state that cigarettes should be made illegal than those participants who read the statement from a low trustworthy source.

Overall it is clear that the use of a highly trustworthy messenger is an effective persuasive strategy. The government could re-design their advert to use someone like Alan Sugar or another popular business person, someone who is viewed as trustworthy, to demonstrate to viewers that setting up a website is a good investment and a safe thing to do. This, in turn could allow the audience to imagine how impressive their business could become by investing online. Similarly using someone who has created a successful business demonstrates to the audience that the person knows what they are talking about compared with the plumber, who appears to be doing well currently, although he is unlikely to know much about business in general...

Miller, G.R., & Baseheart, J. (1969). Source trustworthiness, opinionated statements, and response to persuasive communication. Speech Monographs, 36, 1-7. 

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