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 18, 2018

Why are celebrities not scared of absurdity?

Why are celebrities not scared of absurdity?

If I was enormously famous and popular, I would aim to present myself in the best possible light; I’d like to think that readers of this post would agree with me. However, in the world of celebrity that so dominates the social fabric of today, the reality is quite the opposite. Not only are some celebrities indifferent to the possibility of seeming absurd in the eyes of the entire world, but some even strive to do so intentionally. I wonder, why is this?

Let us begin with the case study of Miley Cyrus, a celebrity who has attracted so much attention in recent times that she needs no introduction. Immediately after the singer’s VMA performance in 2013, where she wore a lat

ex bra and pants and twerked on Robin Thicke, the star was tweeted about 306 000 times per minute. Although those tweets were almost entirely negative, the performance was nevertheless at the forefront of societal discourse for some time and has become very memorable. Indeed, Cyrus herself seemingly only saw the positive permutations in the aftermath of her performance: “If people are talking about me, I must be doing something right.” Ultimately, Miley’s success can be explained by the phenomenon of negativity bias, which resembles an adaptive tendency of people to be wired and especially attentive towards negativity (Vaish, Grossman & Woodward, 2008).

In thinking about this, I am reminded of something that my mum, who used to work in public relations, once told me: “any publicity is good publicity.” Similarly, in advertisement, bad publicity is used as a technique to gain popularity and/or increase sales and indeed negative publicity has previously been found to be linked with an increase in sales (Berger, Sorensen & Rasmussen, 2010). For instance, negative descriptions like wine being portrayed as “redolent of stinky socks,” has resulted in an increase in sales (O'Connell 2006). Additionally, after the broadcasting of the movie “Borat”, which made a lot of fun out of Kazakhstan as a country, reported a “300 percent increase in requests for information about the country” (Yabroff 2006).

Consequently, it seems that bad publicity results in a memorable message which is well-talked about among the public.


Berger, J., Sorensen, A. T., & Rasmussen, S. J. (2010). Positive effects of negative publicity: When negative reviews increase sales. Marketing Science29(5), 815-827.

O'Connell, V. (2006). Ripe for change: Wine sales thrive as old barriers start to crumble. Wall Street Journal25(August 25), A1.

Sääksjärvi, M., Hellen, K., & Balabanis, G. (2013). Bad Celebrities Are Good? the Effects of Celebrity Image on Consumer Self-Esteem and Purchase Intensions. ACR European Advances.

Vaish, A., Grossmann, T., & Woodward, A. (2008). Not all emotions are created equal: the negativity bias in social-emotional development. Psychological bulletin134(3), 383.

Yabroff, J. (2006). Coming of age. Newsweek (December 18)8.

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