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.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Short Advertising Copy, What else?

Either at the cinema or on television, you must have seen George Clooney say “Nespresso, what else?” Once is enough for this phrase to catch your eyes and remain in your memory. It is a successful advertisement considering that the role of ad is to make people remember certain products and remind them in a choice situation. However, it isn’t just Nespresso trying to come up with a catchy phrase to advertise goods. It is rather a common marketing strategy that most companies frequently use. Why do they invest a large amount of time and money to make such a short advertising copy? What is the power of an ad phrase?
The essence of advertising copy is in its briefness. You would easily notice that ad copies are all very short and have compact meanings. This characteristic triggers consumers’ availability heuristic and eventually influences their behaviors through the theory of planned behavior. Availability heuristic suggests that people use the ease of retrieval as a basis for judgement of relative frequency in the environment and thus its importance (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973). That is, strong associative bond is considered as an indicator that certain event has occurred repeatedly in real world. Consequently people assume that it must be something important, and advertising phrases use such process of availability heuristic to have an impact on potential buyer’s behaviors. To do this, an ad copy has to be simple and short so that it can be fully processed in viewers’ memory before it is retrieved for future judgements. Brief advertising phrase lessens the burden of rehearsal in viewers’ consolidation procedure. As a result, short ones are much easier to retrieve than long, complicated copies.
Once availability heuristic is operated, it influences attitude and subjective norm, which are two determinants of intention in the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991). According to this theory, attitude toward the behavior refers to the degree to which a person is favorable or unfavorable of a particular behavior. The second predictor, subjective norm refers to one’s belief about others’ attitude toward the behavior. In my opinion, availability heuristic affects these two factors in slightly different ways. First, mere exposure effect mediates the influence of availability heuristic on the attitude. Zajonc(1968) proposes that mere repeated exposure of the individual to a stimulus enhances his or her attitude toward it. What he meant by “mere exposure” is a condition in which the individual is able to perceive that object. Ease of processing and later retrieving of simple ad copies makes people more familiar with it and eventually form a positive attitude. I think familiarization plays a critical role in inducing behavior change since humans have inherent tendency to be wary of novel stimulus in their environment (Zajonc). When it comes to actually taking an action, people usually choose things they feel comfortable with, and by increasing availability in customers’ minds, companies can familiarize people with their products. On the other hand, availability heuristic directly affects potential buyers’ subjective norm. Ease of retrieval works as a cue that it is prevalent in the environment and this implies that the general public is pretty fond of it. An individual’s perception of others’ attitude is influential in behavior change. For instance, if an ad copy comes to one’s mind easily, he or she would think that its product is commonly used and preferred by numerous consumers. Such belief then makes the individual to try it himself or herself as well.
Nespresso conveys the message that its coffee is the best by simply repeating a short phrase, “What else?” Another good example would be Nike, using the ad copy “Just do it.” Both were all strong enough to stick in people’s minds. One very big similarity among many ad copies is that they are brief, containing only a few words. This is essential in order to induce consumers’ availability heuristic, affect key components of the theory of planned behavior, and ultimately change people’s behaviors to buy their products. It is in fact a common sense that ad copies are usually short, but examining the reason to it and how it works in terms of theories of behavior was very interesting.



Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 50(2), 179-211.
Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology, 5(2), 207-232.
Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9(2p2), 1.

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