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, February 15, 2013

Belvedere vodka promotes rape.

Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.

Belvedere posted this advert on their social media sites in 2012. However, the advert was removed within hours of being published due to a number of complaints about it promoting rape culture. Belvedere issued an apology and even made a donation to RAINN (America’s largest anti-sexual violence organisation), which clearly shows that they realised the inappropriate nature of the advert.

The advert shows a man restraining a woman who is clearly frightened by the situation. It is accompanied by the slogan ‘unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly’. The intended meaning of the advert was to suggest that Belvedere shocks people, as it is a high quality and smooth vodka. They attempt to use the persuasive technique of humour by suggesting that not all people ‘go down smoothly’, but Belvedere will. Humour has been found to increase attention and liking considerably more than adverts that do not use it (Speck, 1991).

However, this humorous message was completely lost because of the horrific connotations of rape suggested by the photograph. It implies that drinking Belvedere vodka will lead to rape or sexual abuse. Therefore, this is likely to induce high levels of fear and threat, especially in females, who are more vulnerable to rape. Research has shown that adverts that evoke extreme fear are unsuccessful, as the viewer may defensively avoid attention or deny personal vulnerability (Ray & Wilkie, 1970). 

Rogers and Mewborn (1976) investigated the effects of threat and self-efficacy on message rejection. 176 students participated in three video watching experiments based on the topics of smoking, safe driving and venereal diseases. Each experiment had three between subject’s manipulations: high/low noxiousness, high/low probability of the event occurring and high/low efficacy of a coping response. Participants fear arousal was assessed after watching the films. Results showed that messages with high levels of threat and low levels of self-efficacy resulted in message rejection. Therefore, Belvedere’s advert is likely to be rejected because it is very threatening and portrays an uncontrollable situation with high fear and low self-efficacy. Their results also support Leventhal’s danger control process theory, which attempts to explain how fear appeals work.

Therefore, this is a bad advert, as they are linking their brand with an undesired negative consequence (rape/sexual abuse), which will increase avoidance of the brand, leading to a decrease in sales and attractiveness of the Belvedere brand.


Leventhal, H. (1970). Findings and theory in the study of fear communications. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 5, pp. 119-186). New York: Academic Press.

Ray, M. L., & W. L. Wilkie. (1970). Fear: The Potential of an Appeal Neglected by Marketing. Journal of Marketing 34, 54-61.

Rogers, R. W., & Mewborn, C. R. (1976). Fear appeals and attitude change: Effects of a threat's noxiousness, probability of occurrence, and the efficacy of the coping responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 54-61.

Speck, P. S. (1991). The humorous message taxonomy: A framework for the study of humorous ads. Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, 13, 1–44. 

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