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.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How "Save the Children" used persuasion techniques

There is no denying the power of this advert from Save the Children to really make its’ viewers think. There is a clear and simple message which is delivered with astounding impact – “Just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it’s not happening”.  This leaves the viewer with the question “if this was us, what would we do?”. Within the advertisement itself there are a number of clever persuasion techniques used to provoke emotion in viewers and encourage donation to the charity. The following are a select few examples which I noted.

Perspective Taking
By placing the child into a context which the average British person is familiar with (going to school, having birthday parties etc.), this allows people to easily adopt the perspective of the young girl at the beginning of the advertisement. This may then help viewers to empathise with the more serious notes later. Just the act of taking the perspective of another person has been shown to increase empathy and helping behaviours. Oswald (1996) found that when participants were encouraged to take the perspective of struggling students they volunteered more of their time to help and rated themselves higher on empathetic arousal. This shows that this method, in the context of the advert, may encourage more people to donate or volunteer as they are likely to take the perspective of the young girl and increase their empathetic concern for other children in this situation.

Similarity Altercast
The ad does well at making the young girl seem like just an ordinary British child (e.g. Playing the recorder, learning French & playing outside). This will obviously be an area of similarity for most viewers of this advert, as many will have had “normal” British childhoods too. Much of the research into the social influence of similarity finds that seemingly trivial similarities can often encourage both liking and prosocial behaviours (Berschied 1966). Burger et al. (2004) found that even random similarities such as a shared birthday, a first name or even fingerprint similarities increased the likelihood that a participant would complete a request given by a confederate (up to 84% agreed to complete the request when there was an ‘uncommon similarity’). This demonstrates that by making the child British (as opposed to Syrian), Save the Children have encouraged people to view this child (and thus the Syrian children) as similar to themselves. This may then increase the likelihood that they donate or volunteer as, shown by the research, feelings of similarity promote helping behaviours.

It's very common practice in the UK for children to learn the recorder in primary school. This is one example of how the advert provides an area of similarity for viewers.

The way in which the advert is made, takes us on a journey through a whole year of the young girls life in just 1 minute and 18 seconds. This is framed in a story-like fashion –with a “main character” and a “plot”. Simply placing information in the format of a story has been shown to make said information more compelling/believable. Anderson, Lepper & Ross (1980) demonstrated this using case studies about the success of risk taking for firefighters. They found that those who read a case study with a positive outcome, despite being told these were fictitious situations and were later shown the real data on risk taking success, were still more likely to have a positive attitude towards risk taking for firefighters. With this knowledge, it’s clear that information in a story format may be more useful for a persuasive message such as this advert as even if the information is untrue, the message pervades in peoples thoughts.

Emotional "See Sawing" 
This term describes the quick withdrawal of positive emotions which has been shown to increase compliance/obedience (Nawrat & Dolinski, 2007).  This advert is a clear example of this method as the young girls experiences quickly change from positive to negative. Kaczmarek & Steffens (2017) found in their experiments that quick changes in emotions (from positive to negative and vice versa), reduced processing efficacy and left participants more open to social influence. This is a useful technique in persuasive adverts such as this one as those more open to social influence are more likely to donate either money or their time to the cause.

Same car, different time - The girls life quickly changes from one of comfort and safety to one of fear and uncertainty.

These are just a few examples of the persuasive techniques used in this advert. There may also be other methods used here.  Whilst there is no online data on this adverts effectiveness, it has been successful enough for there to be a sequel following the same young girl on her new journey as a refugee which uses an almost identical format.


Anderson, C. A., Lepper, M. R., & Ross, L. (1980). Perseverance of social theories: The role of explanation in the persistence of discredited information. Journal of personality and social psychology39(6), 1037.

Berscheid, E. (1966). Opinion change and communicator-communicatee similarity and dissimilarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology4(6), 670.

Burger, J. M., Messian, N., Patel, S., del Prado, A., & Anderson, C. (2004). What a coincidence! The effects of incidental similarity on compliance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(1), 35-43.

Kaczmarek, M. C., & Steffens, M. C. (2017). Mindlessly Polite: A Conceptual Replication of the Emotional Seesaw Effect on Compliance and Information Processing. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 239.

Nawrat, R., & Dolinski, D. (2007). " Seesaw of Emotions" and Compliance: Beyond the Fear-Then-Relief Rule. The Journal of social psychology147(5), 556-571.

Oswald, P. A. (1996). The effects of cognitive and affective perspective taking on empathic concern and altruistic helping. The Journal of social psychology, 136(5), 613-623.

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