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.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Girls, you’re never going to look like Cheryl Cole

Look at this advert and ask yourself would it work if Cheryl Cole’s picture wasn’t there or if an unknown, yet still attractive, woman had been chosen to be the face of this product?

Celebrity advertisements are not a new phenomenon, especially for luxury products such as clothing, make-up and hair products (Okonkwo, 2006). What a lot of people may not be aware of, is that there are important, scientific, reason why the number of celebrity advertisements has double in the past ten years (Okonkwo, 2006).

When we do not know what to think or how to behave, we look to others for guidance and we model our behaviour on theirs. As the famous saying goes, ‘fill your head with something, or someone else will fill it for you’. What this is saying is that a lot of what we think, is forced upon us by other people. This is called social proof or social modelling most famously described by Latané and Darley (1968). In their original study they had participants fill out, what they thought, was a preliminary questionnaire and then began to fill the room with smoke. When participants were on their own the majority of participants (75%) reacted to the smoke and reported it to an experimenter. However, if there were two confederates in the room, who were not responding to the smoke, participants followed suit and were therefore far less likely to react (38% of participants).

How does this apply to celebrity advertisements? There is a vast array of hair care products on the market and this creates a dilemma for people: which one to buy. This makes consumers feel uncertain and unsure so what we do, is look to others to tell us which one to buy, and marketing people take advantage of this by getting very influential people to give us the answer.

This links into another important area of persuasion, which adverts make use of: authority. Most people are aware of the famous work that Milgram did on conformity, and how people are often willing to do anything, even put someone in a serious risk of death (via electrocution) if someone in an authoritative position tells us to (Milgram, 1963).

Celebrities are extremely important and valuable to brands, because they exert significant influence on consumers (Okonkwo, 2006) and therefore celebrities increase the persuasive power of an advert (Boyland, Harrold, Kirkham, & Halford, 2012). Most consumers looking for a new hair conditioner, will likely take the advice of someone as authoritative as Cheryl Cole. After all, she does have lovely hair and is incredibly hot. In buying this product therefore, consumers hope to become somewhat more like their idol, even though it will likely never happen.

Boyland, E. J., Harrold, J. A., Kirkham, T. C. & Halford, J. C. G. (2012). Persuasive techniques used in television advertisements to market foods to UK children. Appetite, 58, 658-664.

Latané, B. & Darley, J. M. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 377-383.

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67, 371–8.

Okonkwo, U. (2006). Luxury brands & celebrities: An enduring branding romance. Retrieved from

Steven Cass

1 comment:

  1. Very good Steven, you have linked the ad to the science clearly. Try to upload the picture again as it hasn't showed up on the site.


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