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.

Friday, January 25, 2013

British Airways - "Don't Fly"

Devised by well-established advertising agency BBH, the British Airways campaign during the Olympic period was especially interesting. Instead of promoting the service it offered, the persuasive message “Don’t Fly” involved was encouraging consumers to refrain from flying with the company. The rationale behind this was that if people felt good about supporting their country during the Olympics, then they could be rewarded through taking a holiday once the games were over; this was implemented in the second part of the campaign.

The overall insight of the strategy followed the theory of social traps, which states that people will invest initially for high gain, despite knowing the overall long-term detriment that will be caused by their actions. Cass and Edney (1978) demonstrated this theory through their “Nut Game”. This involved giving three or more participants a bowl of hexagonal nuts, and telling them that the nut count would be doubled every 10 seconds, assuming there were still nuts in the bowl. The aim was to gain the most nuts possible, so intuitively participants should initially restrict the number they take initially. However, 65% of participants never reached the first replenishment stage, as they collectively removed all nuts in the first few seconds. However, through allowing discussion of this principle, the effect is negated. British Airways have utilised this principle, implying the message that it will be better overall for people to stay and support their country, negating the paradigm of people rushing for instant gratification. Additionally, pique interest theory states that an unusual request will be more likely to be followed by compliance from individuals, as the request disrupts their refusal scripts. In this instance, the request is the opposite of what consumers have come to expect from advertisements, therefore people will be more willing to take notice and comply. Santos, Leve, and Pratkanis (1994) illustrated this theory through asking participants for either a quarter or 17 cents, which resulted in people being 60% more likely to give 17 cents; the unusual request.

Other techniques used here involve social modelling; the principle of people imitating behaviour. In the televised spot above, people are shown to be celebrating, and travelling to the Olympics. The effect is especially potent if such behaviour is thought to be connected to reward; British Airways frame the holiday consumers can go on after the games as a “reward” for supporting the country (e.g. Pratkanis, & Aronson, 2001), therefore consumers are likely to model the behaviour shown. Guilt plays a large role as well. Having seen the advertisement, people will modify their behaviour so as not to feel that they are letting their country down (e.g. Carlsmith, & Cross, 1969). 

Finally, the advertisement also allows consumers to input their postcode at Through doing this, the spot is amended to incorporate the plane driving down their street, adding an element of interaction between the brand and individual. This causes people to adhere to the overall message more strongly. The effect was demonstrated by Sundar and Kim (2005), who conducted a study in which banner adverts containing more hyperlinks; giving more ‘layers’, led to higher product involvement ratings than those which simply had one layer and no interaction.  

Carlsmith, J. M., & Cross, A. E. (1969). Some effects of guilt on compliance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 11, 232–239.  

Cass, R., & Edney, J. J. (1978). "The commons dilemma: A simulation testing the effects of resource visibility and territorial division". Human Ecology, 6(4): 371–386.

Pratkanis, A. R., & Aronson, E. (2001). Age of propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion. New York: W. H. Freeman.

Santos, M. D., Leve, C., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Seventeen Cents? Mindful Persuasion and the Pique Technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 755–76.

Sundar, S. S., & Kim, J. (2005). Interactivity and Persuasion: Influencing Attitudes with Information and Involvement. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 5(2), 629.


  1. Fascinating and good application of the research. I don't quite get the Cass and Edney study, though: was it that participants were less likely to take all the nuts if they talked it over first, or the other way around?

  2. Yes indeed, I think it follows the same line of reasoning as the Prisoner's Dilemma - that people will generally cooperate to get the maximum benefit if they are allowed to discuss the situation in advance. In context of the advert, I thought this applied to British Airways essentially outlining the discussion for everyone; "don't fly, support your country, and it'll be better for everyone", convincing people to people delay the gratification.

    However, just thinking about it again, I think on a deeper level the crux of the advert really is the classical conditioning association between the brand and the patriotic good-will that sets them apart from competitors; whether they want people to fly or not is a bit of a minor point, as their brand awareness will go up through people remembering the message as being different.

    In sum, the persuasion is a bit more covert, in the way that it is convincing people to change their brand perception of British Airways - they will now see it as a brand that is tied to the Olympics and that cares about the athletes, the country, the people etc.


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