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.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Imagine...using traffic light labels!

This advert’s aim is to encourage/persuade people to use traffic light labelling in order to eat healthier. It uses two main persuasion techniques to do this…

Number 1: Imagery!

IMAGERY is the first persuasion technique that this advert adopts in its attempt to persuade people to use traffic light labelling. It does this by asking the audience to “imagine if there was an easy and simple way to find healthy foods for your family.” This may seem somewhat strange, but imagining yourself carrying out a specific behaviour (in this case using traffic light labelling) makes the behaviour more salient/available in your mind (Kahneman, & Tversky, 1973), thus increasing the likelihood of you actually performing the behaviour.

A study that supports the success of this persuasion technique is Carpenter, Cialdini and Gregory (1982)’s. They showed that asking consumers to imagine a scenario increased the likelihood that the consumer undertook the imagined behaviour (in this case, buying cable TV). In their study, an experimenter posed as someone doing a survey into attitudes about cable TV, and approached participants door-to-door. Half the participants were simply given information about the benefits of cable TV, and the other half were given the same information, but asked to imagine themselves experiencing the benefits.

They found that the participants who imagined themselves with the benefits held significantly more positive attitudes towards cable TV, than those in the information-only condition. Those in the imagination condition were also significantly more likely to request additional information, and were significantly more likely to subscribe to cable TV in future. These attitudes also translated into actual behaviour; participants in the imagination condition were more likely to accept a week’s free service (65.8% compared to 41.5% in the information-only condition), and were significantly more likely to actually subscribe to cable TV in real-life (47.4% compared to 19.5% in the information-only condition).

So, the use of imagery within this advert, should dramatically increase the number of people who will actually use traffic light labelling. This is the reason for its use as one of the main persuasive techniques in this persuasive ad.

Number 2: Credible Source!

However, the persuasion does not stop there! Additionally, this ad uses a CREDIBLE SOURCE to endorse the use of traffic light labelling. In this case, the credible source is an authority figure- a doctor. Using a credible source, particularly an authority figure, has been found to induce certain behaviour (Coney, & Harmon, 1982). For example, Bickman (1974) carried out an experiment where confederates were dressed as either a civilian (sports jacket and tie), a milkman, or a guard (uniform much like a policeman). The confederate then approached strangers and asked them to carry out a particular task. The tasks included picking up a bag, and being told to give money to a stranger. They found that in every situation, participants were more obedient to the higher authority figure (i.e. the guard), than the lower authority figures (i.e. the civilian and the milkman).

So, again, using a doctor as an authoritative figure should cause greater use of traffic light labelling, as people are more likely to listen to- and act according to- authority figures. The doctor was therefore used for this purpose!


Bickman, L. (1974). The social power of a uniform. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 4, 47-61.

Carpenter, K. M., Cialdini, R. B., & Gregory, W. L. (1982). Self-relevant scenarios as mediators of likelihood estimates and compliance: Does imagining make it so? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 89-99.

Coney, K. A., & Harmon, R. R. (1982). The persuasive effects of source credibility in buy and lease situations. Journal of Marketing Research, 19, 255-260.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207-232.

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