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 22, 2014

About Time, About Turn: The Power of the Past in Persuasion

Take a few seconds to observe the above movie poster. Focus on all its constituent parts; the background picture, the bottom block of text, and the middle statement. It, like all movie ‘teaser’ poster, presents very little in the way of substance, but it does cleverly – or perhaps unintentionally, I am a cynic after-all – utilise a huge amount of persuasive techniques.

The first is reasonably obvious and is used by pretty much all movie advertising, it’s what I like to call the attractiveness trap! An inherent nature of people is wanting to identify with attractive people (Chaiken, 1979), indeed people are more convinced by an attractive seller (Reingen and Kernan, 1993) and are more likely to help out an attractive person in need (Benson, Karabenick, and Lerner, 1976). All of this is well known, but what I find most entertaining about this poster is the picture chosen is rather unflattering isn’t it? Why does it still have that attractive, enticing, quality? The smiles certainly help, but it’s the vibrant use of colour, shining through the rain that gives the picture such an attractive quality – seriously, if you put this poster in black and white it is almost terrifying – a unique take on the attractiveness trap by all acounts! Here the advertisers have used a well-known technique, but rather than forcing the attractiveness like Abercromie and Fitch advertisement, they have hit this consumer lure subtly, making it all the more effective.

I’ll be honest; the in-depth analysis of the picture used here only came about when actually thinking about this blog post and is not the main reason I picked it. I chose this poster purely based on the text. Why? Well because humans take short-cuts, and I couldn’t help but chuckle when it first popped up in the underground and on bus-stops throughout September at just how blatantly it tries to tap into this. Without looking back at the top, what is the name of the advertised movie? I would not be surprised if you couldn’t say, I certainly was not five minutes after seeing it for the first time! Why? Well the title of the movie at the bottom is only just bigger than the above writing; a block of text that is situated right at the centre of the poster beneath two smiling faces, exactly where the human eye is drawn first when scanning an image (Caldara et al., 2003). The title isn’t the important part of this advert, anyone with internet access can find out what it is called based off of the important text above. This main text is a bundle of not so subtle persuasive techniques. ‘From the creator of’ gives the movie a sudden credibility, especially in the context of the movies cited, which are ‘classics’ of this genre; expert sources raises the influence of messages (Kelman, 1958). The rest of the text,  ‘Love Actually’, ‘Notting Hill’, and ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, three simple titles, of three old movies, presenting a three-pronged persuasive attack. Firstly creating association, a technique used to elicit a positive attitude towards the new by presenting it as similar to something already held in a positive light, this even works across barely relevant similarities (Warlop and Alba, 2004), here merely the genre of the movie! Secondly it presents implicit referral, instead of saying ‘written by’ or ‘created by’ the poster says it is ‘from the creator of’ eliciting a sense of being given this new movie; while the association builds a favourable light on the new film, the referral element suggests a commitment you should have to the creator, you’ve seen the other films, now you must see this one! Finally it creates Phantom choice, where you present unachievable alternatives to entice people to take what is on offer (Farquhar and Pratkanis, 1993), you cannot see these three films at the cinema anymore, but you can see ‘About Time’.  

So, an effective, if painstakingly blunt approach, to marketing what is probably just another generic Rom Com in an attempt to raise it above the hordes of the dozens of others released each year in our expectations. But is advertising that rides on the backs of previous victories safe persuasion, or a contrast disaster waiting to happen? 


Benson, P. L., Karabenick, S. A., & Lerner, R. M. (1976). Pretty pleases: The effects of physical attractiveness, race, and sex on receiving help. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 12, 409-415.

Caldara, R., Thut, G., Servoir, P., Michel, C. M., Bovet, P., & Renault, B. (2003). Face versus non-face object perception and the ‘other-race’ effect: a spatio-temporal event-related potential study. Clinical Neuroscience, 114, 515-528.

Chaiken, S. (1979). Communicator physical attractiveness and persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1387-1397.

Farquhar, P. H., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1993). Decision structuring with phantom alternatives. Management Science, 39, 1214-1226.

Kelman, H. C. (1958). Compliance, identification, and internalization three processes of attitude change. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2, 51-60.

Reingen, P. H., & Kernan, J. B. (1993). Social perception and interpersonal influence: some consequences of the physical attractiveness stereotype in a personal selling setting. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2, 24-38.

Warlop, L., & Alba, J. W. (2004). Sincere flattery: trade-dress imitation and consumer choice. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14, 21-27.
Andrew King

1 comment:

  1. Nice, good choice of advert, tone of writing and analysis. Next time make the links between the science and advert even stronger with clearer writing.


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