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.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Feel the Pepsi Wave 'The choice of your generation'

Pepsi cola and Coca cola are the largest softdrink providers, and also the largest competitors against each other in the market. For this reason, Pepsi teamed up with Michael Jackson, King of the Pop of the time, launched this advert in the 1980s. The commercial targets the younger age group in particular, as suggested by the repeated lyrics 'You're a whole new generation' and 'Your the pepsi generation'. A couple of techniques were used in the advert.

Firstly, given the MJ frenzy during the 80s, the advert began with his popular song to catch public attention. This advert demonstrated the high-status-admirer altercast technique, as general affection towards Michael was manipulated to fit in the image of drinking Pepsi cola and dancing with MJ.  For example, Bickman (1971) found that people were more likely to return a dime lost in a phone booth when the request was made by males in suits and females in nice dresses compared to those same males and females wearing work and casual clothing. It is likely that using MJ in the advert will be more convincing, as people tend to talk about him and remember the song from the advertisement.

Secondly, targeting the 'new generation', the advert depicted a normal boy from the neighbourhood winning Michael's approval for the act of drinking pepsi. The 'just-plain-folks' technique was introduced to make targets feel their ability in doing the same - drinking pepsi and winning Michael's approval. Researches showed that source-recepient similarity tend to increase influence and persuasion. Festinger's (1954) social comparison processes posits that people have a tendency to turn to similar others as referents for their opinions on specific issues. In this case, the similar other is MJ and his fans.

Lastly, the meaning of 'new generation' was re-categorised as 'pepsi generation'. It is assumed that viewers are likely to choose pepsi over coca cola when they come to think of themselves as the new generation, in addition to their increasing identification toward Michael's choice. In Salancik and Conway's (1975) experiment, students endorsed pro- and anti-religious survey questions that used either the word 'frequently' or 'occasionally' in the stem. Those subjects who rated themselves using 'occasionally' perceived themselves as more religious (because they endorsed more items) compared to those who responded to stems with the word 'frequently', demonstrating changing the perceptions of an object by changing the meaning of a category.


Bickman, L. (1971). The effect of social status on the honesty of others. Journal of Social Psychology, 85, 87-92.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.
Salancik, G. R. & Conway, M. (1975). Attitude inferences from salient and relevant cognitive content about behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 829-840.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent golden-oldy of adverts, and nice description of multiple angles on the research, especially that by Salancik and Conway -- another classic.


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