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.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

They don't use protein supplements... So why should you?

This advert has been designed to stop the unnecessary overconsumption of protein through the use of protein supplements.

Firstly, the use of attractive models in the advertisement demonstrates the behaviour change technique of social comparison, more specifically the upward comparisons technique (Festinger, 1954). It has been found that upward comparison can provide inspiration to improve and as a result be more like the model in the advertisement. For example, a study by Collins (1995) showed that those who are dieting use such comparison by pinning up pictures of thinner people. It was reported that people used these pictures to remind themselves of their own weight as well as using it as a goal to improve. The above advertisement employs a similar technique to that used in the study by Collins (1995), as it displays attractive people who you aspire to be like and therefore it may influence you to be like them and stop using protein supplements. 

Upward social comparison also creates a hope for self-enhancement and as a result people want to see themselves as being part of the superior “in-group” they are viewing in the advert, which is another technique that can be seen on this poster. When looking at the advert you see a group that you perceive yourself to be in and that you identify with. As a result, you do not want to distance yourself from that group by being in a "protein taking" out-group; this is persuasive in making people stop using protein supplements. A past study by Ferguson and Kelley (1964) through a group product building task, ones own group product was favoured over that by another group. This shows how in-group feelings can lead to preference and behaviour change in preference for the in-group, making it more worrisome to potentially be seen as part of an out-groups i.e., a "protein taking" out-group.

As a result of the above in-group/out-group conflict cognitive dissonance also comes in to play, which is therefore another persuasive technique used in this advertisement. Cognitive dissonance is when an individual has inconsistent attitudes, especially when these are related to attitude change (Festinger, 1962). However, dissonance can be reduced by employing different techniques, For example, a study by Stone, Aronson, Crain, Winslow & Fried (1994) used dissonance to tackle the problem of AIDS among sexually active young adults. They showed that by creating dissonance in a group of young adults by inducing hypocrisy resulted in them buying more condoms than their control counterparts. Stone et al. (1994) used hypocrisy to encourage the practice of safe sex. This can be seen in the above advert, as it creates two conflicting and hypocritical attitudes of wanting to “bulk” and be fit but also taking protein supplements. As a result, the advertisement makes use of two dissonance reduction techniques: adding consistent elements and lowering the importance of one of the dissonant factors. By adding consistent elements, the advertisement makes the viewer think that “this reflects me…” and reduces the dissonance, weakening the protein supplement attitude. The protein supplement attitude is also weakened by lowering the importance of it. By having the quote by Al Kavaldo it will make the viewer think that protein supplements aren’t really that good and that instead they could have a steak!

The use of the rhetorical question is also a persuasion technique that can be seen above. It draws the viewers eye straight to the fact that the models do not use protein supplements and starts a comparison process for the viewer who will then have to think about their own behaviour. The use of rhetorical questions has shown to result in superior persuasion and recall. A study by Tom and Eves (1999) comparing advertisements using rhetorical questions to ones that do not showed that those using rhetorical questions performed better on persuasion and recall.

Lastly, the above advert uses fear appeals by drawing on negative health consequences such as “excess protein can fuel weight GAIN”. Although scare tactics have in recent years been questioned, evidence suggests that when used correctly they do work. It as been shown that using appeals that draw on negative emotions such as fear are indeed effective (Pratkanis, 2007). This is especially so if the persuasive message provides an avoidance tactic for the negative consequences. By stating negative health consequences, the advert is focusing on the negative emotion of fear. The sole purpose of the advert is the tactic to avoid any such negative and fearful consequences by stopping using protein supplements.

Although many other persuasive techniques can be seen in the advertisement, the above mentioned are the most prominent and have been successful in the past!


Collins, R. L. (1995). For better or for worse: The impact of upward social comparison on self-evaluations. Psychology Bulletin, 119, 51-69.

Ferguson, C. K., & Kelley, H. H. (1964). Significant factors in overevaluation of own-group’s product. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69, 223-228.

Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.

Festinger, L. (1962). Cognitive Dissonance. Scientific American, 207, 93-107.

Pratkanis, A. R. (Ed.). (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Psychology Press.

Stone, J., Aronson, E., Crain, A. L., Winslow, M. P., & Fried, C. B. (1994). Inducing hypocrisy as a means of encouraging young adults to use condoms. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 116-128.

Tom, G., & Eves, A. (1999). The use of rhetorical devices in advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 39-43.

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