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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"If the ad campaign is not working, first show the kid, then show the dog"

Although this commercial was never actually used by Bridgestone as they did not feel it represented them appropriately, it racked up millions views on YouTube and ended up being their most viewed commercial. Worked out well for Bridgestone as they got free worldwide advertising!

There are three ways we could explain why this commercial had so much success compared to perhaps more generic ads. Firstly of course; humour. There is a lot to be said about the effect humour has in advertising. Although humour may not always be universal because of language barriers for example, there are generally widely accepted topics that everyone can agree are amusing. This commercial plays with this idea as not one word is spoken but the video still shares an idea that everyone can understand. Sternthal and Craig (1973) explain how humorous messages attract attention, which distracts the audience and which in turn leads to a reduction in criticism and an increase in persuasion. Clearly this works in the commercials favour, as it would increase the likelihood for someone to buy Bridgestone tyres. Additionally, the fact that the ad is now in your mind means when you come to choose which new tyres you want for your car, the availability heuristic will ensure they are Bridgestone tyres.

Another way to look at the persuasive power of this ad is through the heuristic-systematic model of information processing (Chaiken, 1980), which explains how people receive and process persuasive messages. HSM allows both systematic and heuristic processing to occur; heuristic processing requires minimal cognitive effort on the part of the audience, basically like a mental short-cut whereas systematic processing requires more comprehensive and analytical thinking. Depending on the audience’s involvement in the message content, heuristic and systematic processing can occur independently or at the same time. Specifically, Lancendorfer, Atkin and Reece (2008) found that people processed ads with dogs more heuristically, and if people process more heuristically then ad liking increases. He explains that the presence of the dog in the ad suppresses the systematic processing and increases the heuristic processing, ultimately leading to an increased positive attitude towards the ad. Overall, the accepted belief is that animals in commercials instigate good feelings and subsequently a positive view of the brand. This process is similar to the elaboration-likelihood model (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986), where there are also two routes to process information, depending on how much cognitive effort the audience is willing to use. They will take the central route if a lot of cognitive effort is used, just like systematic processing.  Whereas the peripheral route will be taken when there is less cognitive effort such as in heuristic processing. This shows how the audience would be more persuaded by a commercial containing a dog as it requires less cognitive effort to process and is thus more pleasant for the viewer.

I previously mentioned the use of humour in this commercial, but what really makes it that funny? An important aspect to look at is the use of anthropomorphism, which is the practice of giving human characteristics to non-human things such as animals or inanimate objects. A successful ad elicits a physiological response in the viewer, which makes them connect with the content subsequently making the message harder to forget. The commercial becomes relatable through the use of anthropomorphism, as even though they are animals the emotions they feel are human. Additionally, it was found that people actually prefer animals in advertising when they are presented anthropomorphically (Connel, 2013). As explained above, the use of animals already increases the commercial appeal and by anthropomorphising the dog it makes it even more persuasive.

So basically if you want a successful commercial, include a dog acting like a human.


Chaiken, S. (1980). Heuristic versus systematic information processing and the use of source versus message cues in persuasion. Journal of personality and social psychology39(5), 752.

Connell, P. (2013). The role of baseline physical similarity to humans in consumer responses to anthropomorphic animal images. Cass Knowledge.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.

Lancendorfer, K. M., Atkin, J. L., & Reece, B. B. (2008). Animals in advertising: Love dogs? Love the ad!. Journal of Business Research61(5), 384-391.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In Communication and persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer New York.

Sternthal, B., & Craig, C. S. (1973). Humor in advertising. The Journal of Marketing, 12-18.

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