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, March 3, 2016

Want to be a superhero? Quit drinking carbonated drinks!

This advert aims to persuade viewers to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks by raising awareness of the significant link between carbonated drinks consumption and weight gain (Malik, Schulze, & Hu, 2006). Several persuasive techniques are used in this advert.

Firstly, a visual metaphor, a concept put forward by Sopory and Dillard (2002), is used in this advert. A visual metaphor is one or set of images used in place of another to suggest an analogy between the two images or set of images (McQuarrie & Philips, 2005). People always think of superheroes as fit and powerful. In this advert, all cartoon superheroes were deliberately drawn oversized to represent obesity. Moreover, the superhero logos on their outfits have been replaced by familiar brand logos of carbonated drinks e.g. Pepsi. It creates an association between carbonated drinks and obesity. The verbal phrase ‘childhood heroes & dreams CRUSHED’ also uses a metaphor technique. Many people idolise superheroes and dream to become one when they were young. This phrase implies that consuming carbonated drinks crushes children's dream of being superheroes because the composite images suggest that even superheroes have become obese after drinking carbonated drinks and no one wants to be a superhero that is obese and weak. Past studies have found that adverts that use metaphors are perceived to be more credible as they provoke more cognitive processing. They are also more persuasive than those with straightforward messages or literal images because the use of metaphors increase the persuasiveness of a message (McQuarrie & Philips, 2005; Sopory and Dillard, 2002).

A picture of the recognisable face of Macaulay Culkin from his memorable role - Kevin, in the well-known movie ‘Home Alone’ is used in this advert. According to Pratkanis (2007), using famous people in an advert can immediately catch viewers’ attention. Moreover, this advert uses humour. The use of humorous images such as the shocking face of Kevin and also the overweighed cartoon superheroes attracts viewers’ attention and enhances liking of the advert (Weimberger & Gulas, 1992). These images can also induce positive mood, which leads people to change their attitudes in favour of the source regardless of the quality of the message in the advert (Worth & Mackie, 1987).

Furthermore, this ad uses extreme consequences template (Goldenberg, Mazursky and Solomon, 1999) by presenting the extreme consequence of consuming carbonated drinks. The consequence of consuming carbonated drinks - weight gain, is illustrated by the cartoon superheroes in an extreme form - obesity; in such way, viewer are more likely feel negative about consuming carbonated drinks.

Past studies have found that colour in print messages strongly reinforce attention. Moreover, colours can affect people’s perceptions of an advert. The print messages in this advert are in red and the background colour is black. Black is found to be associated with grief and fear (Aslam, 2006), just as how viewers should feel about the consequence of drinking carbonated drinks. The red messages create a huge contrast to the background and produce a dramatic effect that highlights the adverse effect of drinking carbonated drinks.

Finally, this advert includes some shocking facts about carbonated drinks such as it being the ‘Major contributor to the obesity epidemic’. Past research has shown that the use of shocking technique attracts attention and most importantly makes the advert more memorable (Dahl, Frankenberger, & Manchanda, 2003).


Aslam, M. M. (2006). Are you selling the right colour? A cross-cultural review of colour as a marketing cue. Journal of marketing communications, 12(1), 15-30.

Dahl, D. W., Frankenberger, K. D., & Manchanda, R. V. (2003). Does it pay to shock? Reactions to shocking and nonshocking advertising content among university students. Journal of advertising research, 43(03), 268-280.

Goldenberg, J., Mazursky, D., & Solomon, S. (1999). The fundamental templates of quality ads. Marketing science, 18(3), 333-351.

Malik, V. S., Schulze, M. B., & Hu, F. B. (2006). Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 84(2), 274-288.

McQuarrie, E. F., & Phillips, B. J. (2005). Indirect persuasion in advertising: How consumers process metaphors presented in pictures and words. Journal of advertising, 34(2), 7-20.

Pratkanis, A. (Ed.) (2007). The Science of Social Influence: Advances and Future Progress. Psychology Press.

Sopory, P., & Dillard, J. P. (2002). The persuasive effects of metaphor: A metaanalysis. Human Communication Research, 28(3), 382-419.

Weinberger, M. G., & Gulas, C. S. (1992). The impact of humor in advertising: A review. Journal of advertising, 21(4), 35-59.

Worth, L. T., & Mackie, D. M. (1987). Cognitive mediation of positive affect in persuasion. Social Cognition, 5(1), 76-94.

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