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.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Drink Some Coffee, Nice Hot Cup of Coffee

Coffee or tea? Coffee is becoming one of the most popular drink in the world, with a consumption of 2 billion cups per day (“Coffee Facts”, n.d.). Some suggested that it was effective in improving people’s cognitive function and physical fitness. A regular consumption of coffee could also lower the risks of some diseases. In this advert, a number of techniques were used to encourage coffee-drinking behaviour: Social consensus, high status-admirer altercast, association, similarity altercast, repetition of a message, and credible source.

First, the technique of social consensus was adopted. When the more it appears that people are doing something, the more likely others will follow. Milgram, Bickman and Berkowitz’s (1969) study showed that people observed others’ response and readily conformed to their behaviour. The advert quoted that a majority of people in the UK (74%) drink coffee (“Coffee Facts”, n.d.), knowing others’ choices will form a social agreement on coffee-drinking behaviour.

Another persuasion technique that used in this advert was high status-admirer altercast. The celebrities, famous people, and movie stars influence others as people admire and would like to win their approval by following what they do. Lefkowitz et al. (1955) found that the likelihood of people jaywalking increased when they observed people dressed in a suit than that of dressed in a denim doing so. Dressing in a suit indicated high status, and thus was more influential to people’s behaviour. In this advert, ‘Sherlock does’ was used to persuade coffee-drinking behaviour. Sherlock Holmes was a well-known British fictional character. He was a consulting detective, who was also good at logical reasoning and forensic science. An internet meme, fan-made strip of conservation from a radio situation comedy was produced from a scene in the second episode "The hounds of Baskerville" of Sherlock (Season 2, TV series co-produced by BBC and WGBH) as shown below (“Nice hot cup of coffee”, n.d.). Originally Sherlock was just talking about coffee, but the meme boosted the popularity of the scene and created the idea that Sherlock drinks coffee. Therefore, ‘Sherlock does’ in the advert persuaded people to drink coffee.

"Nice Hot Cup of Coffee" meme

The technique of association is persuasive by linking an idea to a positive or negative concept. It can transfer a meaning from the subsequent concept to the original idea (Staats & Staats, 1958). Developing from the phrase ‘Sherlock does’, Sherlock gives the impression of being intelligent, knowledgeable and logical. There was a possibility of associating coffee-drinking behaviour and these positive characteristics that Sherlock possess. As a result, the idea of ‘smart’ was transferred to the consequences of drinking coffee.

Similarity increases with persuasion and influence. The idea of Similarity Altercast was illustrated in Berscheid’s (1966) study. The advert was an example using similarity altercast as ‘Brits do drink coffee’ highlighted that people in the UK, from a similar culture behave similarly, as majority of them drink coffee. Recognising people with a similar background could increase the compliance of coffee-drinking behaviour.

The advert made use of repetition of a message. Zajonc (1968) found that mere exposure increased favourability, believability and acceptance of something. The phrases ‘Drink coffee’, ‘Drink some coffee’, and ‘nice hot cup of coffee’ in the advert were repetitive. As such effect of persuasion disappears when individuals attend to the message carefully, the wordings used were slightly varied (for example, by adding ‘some’ between ‘drink coffee’) so as to maintain the effect of repeating a message (Schumann, Petty & Clemons, 1990).

Researchers found that using a credible source was more effective in persuading (Hovland & Weiss, 1951). In this advert, a peer-reviewed medical journal was used to provide statistical information of how coffee consumption reduced risks of diseases. The phrase ‘researchers said so’ with arrows pointing towards the source and statistical figures raised readers’ awareness to their trustworthiness. It increased the reliability of the message that the advert tried to convey.


Berscheid, E. (1966). Opinion change and communicator-communicatee similarity and dissimilarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology4(6), 670.

Cano-Marquina, A., Tarín, J. J., & Cano, A. (2013). The impact of coffee on health. Maturitas75(1), 7-21.

Coffee Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Hovland, C. I., & Weiss, W. (1951). The influence of source credibility on communication effectiveness. Public opinion quarterly15(4), 635-650.

Lefkowitz, M., Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1955). Status factors in pedestrian violation of traffic signals. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology51(3), 704.

Milgram, S., Bickman, L., & Berkowitz, L. (1969). Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size. Journal of personality and social psychology13(2), 79.

Nice hot cup of coffee. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Schumann, D. W., Petty, R. E., & Clemons, D. S. (1990). Predicting the effectiveness of different strategies of advertising variation: A test of the repetition-variation hypotheses. Journal of Consumer Research, 192-202.

Staats, A. W., & Staats, C. K. (1958). Attitudes established by classical conditioning. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology57(1), 37.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology9(2p2), 1.

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