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, January 23, 2013

Water is life: #firstworldproblems

Water is life: #firstworldproblems

This advertisement by ‘water is life’ was used to encourage the audience to donate money by promoting the importance of water shortage problems in third world countries. It combines social media strategy (hash tagging on twitter) with a serious message by showing a number of Haitians saying twitter quotes about first world problems, whilst being surrounded by scenery showing that they live in poverty. This emphasises the huge division between first and third world living conditions. The irony puts into perspective how unimportant first world problems are in comparison. This will evoke guilt in the viewer because they can probably relate to a number of the ‘first world problems’ mentioned in the advert.

The main persuasive technique used is guilt. It influences the audience by causing inconsistencies between standards and actions (Pfau & Dillard, 2002), therefore, increasing cognitive dissonance. In order to reduce these feelings of guilt, viewers are easily persuaded by the solutions offered in the advert (donating money).
The effectiveness of guilt is demonstrated in a study by Pinto and Priest (1991). They used results from a content analysis of womens magazines to create advertisements with differing levels of guilt: low, medium and high. Working mothers were shown five adverts about a microwaveable dinner product, each one inducing a different level of guilt by explaining the unhealthy effects that can occur from eating microwaveable dinners. They then used an interview to measure participants guilt and purchase behaviour. The results showed a curvilinear relationship: the intensity of the guilt appeal effects the level of guilt aroused. Thus, medium guilt appeals are the most effective at evoking guilt in the audience, and high levels of guilt can have a negative effect, causing anger, which decreases the effectiveness of the advert. Bozinoff and Ghingold (1983) also found that moderate guilt positively affects behaviour. This could be a reason why this advert has a more striking effect compared to standard water aid adverts: it does not aggressively put forward the message or create high levels of guilt.

Additionally, the advert employs the dependency-responsibility altercast to increase audience compliance. At the end of the advert, it states ‘first world problems are not problems, a donation can help bring clean water to those in need’. This emphasises that the viewer has responsibility and can make a difference. A donation would enable to water aid to be given and relieve suffering.

It also uses multiple sources by including a number of different Haitians hash tagging the first world problems. This has a persuasive effect as it suggests that the whole community is affected.


Bozinoff, L., & Ghingold, M. (1983). Evaluating guilt arousing marketing communications. J Bus Res, 11, 243–55.

Pfau, M., & Dillard, J. P. (2002). The Persuasion Handbook: Developments in Theory and Practice. London, England. Sage Publications.

Pinto, M. B., & Priest, S. (1991). Guilt appeals in advertising: an explanatory study. Psychological Reports, 69, 375-385.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. New York: Psychology Press.


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