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

The National Shortage of the Grand Big Mac

When the limited-edition Grand Big Mac was released, my friend and I could not wait to try it. We drove straight to a local McDonalds as we were really excited to taste the glorious new Big Mac… But it was not meant to be. They had already sold out. In fact, according to various newspapers, there was a national shortage - stores were selling out all over the country! This suggests that sales even surpassed McDonald’s expectations because they did not provide stores with enough burgers to meet the demand. But why was this burger so strongly sought after?


Perhaps the most influential technique which led to it being sold out on the first day is that it is ‘limited edition’. By claiming that a product is limited edition, it tells the potential consumer that they only have a short amount of time to buy the product, and once that period is over, they will never get the chance to buy it again. This is known as limited-time scarcity (Cialdini, 2008). By producing a product that is limited edition, it makes consumers feel that it is special, which positively influences their evaluations of it (Aggarwal, Jun, & Huh, 2011). Consequently, we all glorified the burger just because it was around for a limited time, even though it is exactly the same as a normal Big Mac, but just a little bit bigger…

Mere Exposure

Mere exposure is an effect caused by repeatedly exposing someone to a stimulus, resulting in them developing a preference for it (Zajonc, 1968). Our perceived attractiveness of a product increases as our exposure to it increase, and this effect has been found to influence the choices we make (Hekkert, Thurgood, & Whitfield, 2013). For example, Blüher and Pahl (2007) presented participants with photographs. Within these photos, there was a logo of either a lemon sweet or peppermint sweet. After viewing the photos, participants could then choose between the two products as a reward. Those who were repeatedly shown photographs with the peppermint logo were much more likely to choose the peppermint sweet than those who were exposed to the lemon sweet logo, or no logo at all. These results highlight that mere exposure influences choice behaviour. So how does this relate to McDonalds? Well, throughout the advertisement, a Big Mac burger is repeatedly shown. By showing us the burger so many times, it increases our perception of how attractive it is. In terms of actual choice behaviour, when customers reach the drive-thru, they are presented with a menu with a set number of choices. Due to mere exposure in the advertisements, people are much more likely to choose the Big Mac than the other choices available, which is why they sold out so quickly. The trick is that exposure makes you think you prefer the Big Mac before even tasting it!

The Social Norm of Eating Big Macs

In the advert, people are evidently enjoying their first experience of eating the burger. However, at one point, a guy is in the car with his friends and he gets ridiculed as he has not eaten one before. His friend tells the woman at the drive-thru that “this guy has never had a Big Mac”, and she responds with “does he not get out much?”, causing all of his friends to laugh. Because his friends and a stranger mocked him because he had not already tried a Big Mac, it presents eating Big Macs as the social norm. Social norms are important because failure to meet the expectation leads to social exclusion (Schachter, 1951). To avoid exclusion, we conform to the behaviour of those around us - making us want to buy the burger.


It is not surprising that demand was so high. By combining all three of these behavioural influences into one advert, it is almost impossible to resist!

Aggarwal, P., Jun, S., & Huh, J. (2011). Scarcity Messages. Journal of Advertising, 40(3), 19-30.

Blüher, R., and Pahl, S. (2007) The mere exposure effect and product choice: A field experiment. Zeitschrift für Sozialpsychologie, 38(3), 209-215

Cialdini, R. B. (2008). Influence: Science and practice (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Hekkert, P., Thurgood, C., & Whitfield, T. (2013). The mere exposure effect for consumer products as a consequence of existing familiarity and controlled exposure. Acta Psychologica, 144(2), 411-417.

Schachter, S. (1951). Deviation, rejection, and communication. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 46, 190-208.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(2. Pt.2), 1-27

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