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 26, 2016

Food Is Medicine

This ad aims to convince the audience of the positive health benefits of coconut water. It employs a number of implicit persuasive techniques which can effectively persuade the intended audience to accept the information presented. The ad first uses a credible source and second a celebrity to endorse the product. Next, the ad employs the scarcity principle to make the product more desirable, before lastly encouraging the audience to look to their peers to assist their decision about the positive health benefits of coconut water.

The ad employs a credible source in order to induce a greater positive attitude toward the information advocated. Credibility is the characteristic of being trustworthy; the more trustworthy the source, the more likely the audience will be to accept the information shown. In this ad, the use of a presumed health expert with a reliable image within society (ie a doctor) helps establish the needed credibility to encourage the audience to be persuaded of the stated information.

The perceived expertise of the source of information presented is a highly effective persuasive tactic (Homer & Kahle, 1990). Hovland, Janis & Kelley (1953) attributed the success of this persuasion technique to the receivers desire for favorable outcomes. High credibility sources increase acceptance of information because they are associated with favorable outcomes (e.g., being liked or being right). Cook (1969) reported less counter-argumentation in response to information provided by a competent source than to an incompetent source. 

Celebrity endorsement is an effective promotional tool which positively influences advertising effectiveness. Agrawal and Kamakura (1995) reveal that the number of products sold tend to increase when the selling company make use of a celebrity endorser. Interestingly, celebrity endorsers do not need to be internationally renowned in order for this technique to be effective; celebrity endorsers just need to be familiar to the target audience.

The coconut water is endorsed by professional surfer (and model) Alarna Blanchard. Blanchard is likely unknown to the population at large, but is beloved in a circle of young (ie under 25 years old) and trendy surfers to which the product is being marketed. Electing to market to a young audience (for example under 25 years old) is further advantageous to the seller as this audience is the most susceptible to persuasive tactics (Hovland and Weiss, 1953).

It has been reasoned that the audiences perceived familiarity with the celebrity endorser is an important component of the effectiveness of this technique (Tellis, 1998). Features such as, attractiveness, similarity, familiarity and liking all increase the receiver's willingness to accept the information provided. This tactic can be explained in terms of the target audience’s symbolic aspiration toward the celebrity (Solomon & Assael, 1987). In other words, the celebrity represents what the audience wants her to be and the audience will be more inclined to accept the information provided by the celebrity.

The ad employs the “scarcity principle” which suggests that the fear of missing out motivates an audience to purchase an at-risk product (Cialdini, 1987). The theory posits once the availability of a product is threatened, the audience as consumers want that product more than if it was widely available. Cialdini observed salespeople inform potential consumers that the product in which they were interested in buying had just been sold to another customer, but that they might be able to find another one. The competition heightens anxiety and makes the product seem much more desirable which increases the likelihood of the purchase. In this ad, the threat that the coconut water is being guzzled faster than “palm trees can produce it” creates the necessary persuasion.

Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a phenomenon in which audiences have a tendency to look to others when deciding what to do. Knowing that others are engaging in the behavior advocated has a powerful influence on our own behavior, especially if we want to be a lot like them. O’Connor (1969) observed the impact of this effect by presenting socially withdrawn pre-school children with footage encouraging positive social activity. After film watching, the withdrawn participants immediately began positively interacting with their peers. In this advertisement, the principle of social proof is employed by referring to “others” as “health nuts”, a statement presumed to be admirable and something that young surfers want to attain (as well as a clever play-on-words).


Agrawal, J., & Kamakura, W. A. (1995). The economic worth of celebrity endorsers: An event study analysis. The Journal of Marketing, 56-62.

Bickman, L. (1974). The social power of a uniform1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology4, 47-61.

Cialdini, R. B. (1987). Influence (Vol. 3). A. Michel.

Cook, T. (1969). Competence, counterarguing, and attitude change. Journal of Personality. 37, 342-58.
Homer, P. M., & Kahle, L. R. (1990). Source expertise, time of source identification, and involvement in persuasion: An elaborative processing perspective. Journal of Advertising, 19(1), 30-39.

Hovland, C. I., Janis, I. L., & Kelley, H. H. (1953). Communication and persuasion. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 18(2), 152. 

Hovland, C. I., & Weiss, W. (1953). Transmission of information concerning concepts through positive and negative instances. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 45(3), 175.

O'Connor, R. D. (1969). Modification of social withdrawal through symbolic modeling1. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2(1), 15-22.
Solomon, M. R., & Assael, H. (1987). The forest or the trees?: a gestalt approach to symbolic consumption. Marketing and semiotics: New directions in the study of signs for sale, 189-218. 

Tellis, G. J. (1998). Advertising and sales promotion strategy. Prentice Hall. 

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