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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

No One Can Reject Coca-Cola

Coca Cola is one of the most well-known brands in the world, 18 billion bottles of drinks were sold each day. As health concerns are increasingly popular these days, I clearly know that Coca-Cola is just carbonic water with syrup and is not healthy. However, sometimes I just really want to have one, and I assume that I am not the only one.

But why? I guess their successful advertisements probably can provide some clues of why we can't reject Coca-Cola. The video below is Coca-Cola’s commercial video with the new tagline “Taste the feeling”, it was released in 2016.

What makes the video so persuasive?

Tageline - Short but strong 

The tagline “taste the feeling” is short, but it easily reminds people of the refreshing Coca-Cola. Such a short message is easier to be remembered and retrieved, therefore is more likely to change people’s behaviour to drink Coca-Cola. This is what we called availability heuristic. The tagline also raises the relevance of its loyal customers and promotes their current attitudes to stay with the brand and drink more Coca Cola (Zaichkowsky, 1994). 

Emotional Arousal

The video “taste the feeling” shows people drinking Coca-Cola and some enjoying blissful moments, associating Coca-Cola with a positive emotion is more likely to generate liking of Coca-Cola (Petty & Briñol, 2015; Cialdini, 2009). Such association can also influence customers’ attitudes of drinking Coca-Cola, which is to meet inner needs of happiness and emotional satisfaction.      
According to the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980), the change in customers’ attitudes can then give a motivation of purchasing (i.e. intention) and actually buy Coca-Cola during shopping (change of behaviour). Subsequently, emotional satisfaction after drinking coke reinforces the link between the situation (e.g. party with friend) and the response (drinking coke), which makes drinking Coke more likely to come up in one’s mind in such positive high-arousal situations, according to the law of effect (Thorndike, 1911). 


In the video, a method of anadiplosis was used to repeat words like “Coca Cola”, “friends”, “stories” and “feelings”. Repetition increases the persuasive power of the message and emphasises the connection between Coke and cheerful situations (Cialdini, 2009). Subsequenly, drinking coke in a lively situation can be more likely to happen.   

How does Coca-Cola reach their customers? 

The Audience

All the faces in the video are young, the audience with similar age or in a similar mood are more likely to be activated by the scenes (e.g partying, concerts, passion in love and so on) in the video (Festinger, 1954). Young people, especially those under 25, who are most susceptible to advertisements containing such persuasive messages (i.e. Coca-Cola for fun times). Besides, it is illegal to sell alcohol to young people under 18 (or 21 in the US), what do those adolescents drink when having great times? The answer is Coca-Cola! 

Exposure and Attention

We can see Coca-Cola’s advertisements everywhere, from bus shelters to eye-catching billboards. Higher exposure rate creates familiarity, which can induce liking of the brand as well as its products (Zajonc, 1968; Fang, Singh & Ahluwalia, 2007). Billboards located at central shopping areas, like New York Time Square and Piccadilly Circus in London, make it easy to reach a large audience. The use of high-tech also plays an important role in persuasion. Spraying a cool mist under the giant 3D billboard at Time Square gives audience a multi-sensory experience. The cool feeling in accord with the advertisement can increase the likelihood to drink Coke (Joutsela, 2010)! 

Moreover, according to the Elaboration-Likelihood Model (ELM; Pretty & Cacioppo, 1986), emotion serves as a simple cue when the audience are less motivated (e.g. people who rarely drink Coke). People in shopping are generally in a positive state and are more likely to rely on their system 1 (i.e. intuitive thinking) while making a decision (Kahneman, 2011) and little mental effort would be paid to consider whether Coke is healthy or not. Thus, there is a great possibility that these people are "potential customers" of Coca-Cola.


Piccadilly Circus, London                  Time Square, Manhatton, NY
To sum up

So why can't we reject Coca-Cola? Everyone knows what's in the Coke, but hardly can people say they never had a Coke or promise they would never ever drink it, at least i can't. Simply seeing the logo and advertisement everywhere reminds me of the fizzy taste and want to have one. Therefore, I would say their advertisement is the key. For those people who love Coca-Cola, the high personal relevance and emotional investment makes them stay loyal and instantly think of Coca-Cola when they need a relax. As for people who are not fans of Coca-Cola,  the advertisement plays an important role to draw their attention and  catch every chance to reach the potential customers and change their mind and behaviour in a limited amount of time (e.g. during shopping).  


Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior. NJ: Prentice- Hall.

Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: The psychology of persuasion (pp. 167-170). New York: Collins.

Fang, X., Singh, S., & Ahluwalia, R. (2007). An examination of different explanations for the mere exposure effect. Journal of consumer research, 34, 97-103.

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

Joutsela, M. (2010). Multisensory Persuasion and Storytelling through Packaging Design.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow (pp. 68-70). Macmillan.

Petty, R. E., & Briñol, P. (2015). Emotion and persuasion: Cognitive and meta-cognitive processes impact attitudes. Cognition and Emotion, 29, 1-26.

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

Thorndike, E. L. (1911). Animal intelligence: Experimental studies. Macmillan.

Zaichkowsky, J. L. (1994). The personal involvement inventory: Reduction, revision, and application to advertising. Journal of advertising, 23, 59-70.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9, 1.

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