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.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sheer Cover

In what could only be described as the ultimate mashup of psychological persuasion techniques; this commercial for “Sheer Cover Cosmetics” effectively demonstrates the arsenal of strategies companies have aimed directly at convincing you, the buyer, to surrender your war with logical reason and BUY!

The strength of this ad lies in its use of “social proof”. In psychology, this basically means we use the decisions of others when making our own decisions. The scatter-gun of real life testimonials therefore, not only biases consumers perception of the product to one that is favourable but also inclines them to believe that they will experience similar successful results. Additionally, the use of phrases such as “just like you” is commonplace in advertising because companies want their consumers to identify with people in the ad. Why? Because people more readily empathise and feel positive towards people who are similar to themselves (Escalas & Stern, 2003). The result is the testimonials will have more sway in consumers' final judgement.

The ad sends in a stealth jet to head up the purchasing request “just give it a try”. This is an example of a slightly modified “low-balling” technique (Cialdini et. al., 1978) but with added security. To illustrate, take the Motes (1986) study where shoes were offered at a discounted price to customers. After some deliberation customers agreed to make the purchase, but it was at this point customers were told that the shoes were in fact not on sale. They were then asked if they would still like to buy the shoes at their original price. A surprising 96% of customers said they still wanted the shoes! The Sheer Cover Cosmetics ad uses this same technique, disguising the monetary value of the initial purchase by offering a full refund. In reality customers probably won't ask for their money back because, like the customers in the Motes (1986) study, once people make the decision to buy it becomes a part of their self concept. This is the idea that individuals form their identity though consistent behaviour and the decisions they make. To stick by your purchase therefore, reaffirms your self concept but also reassures you that you made the right choice.

Finally, free-gifts handcuff you to the deal by operating on the basic human principle reciprocity; if someone gives you a gift you feel a need to pay them back (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). Here the company 'gave' you all this stuff so you would feel indebted to them, under such circumstances it would be knife to your ego to ask for money back. The solution: keep the makeup, reaffirm your identity as a person, avoid embarrassment and justify your purchase.


Cialdini, R. B., Cacioppo, J. T., Bassett, R., & Miller, J. A. (1978). Low-ball procedure for producing compliance: Commitment then cost. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 36(5), 463.

Cialdini, R. B., & Goldstein, N. J. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 55, 591-62

Escalas, J. E., & Stern, B. B. (2003). Sympathy and empathy: Emotional responses to advertising dramas. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(4), 566-578.

Motes, W. H., Brown, R. E., Ezell, H. F., & Hudson, G. I. (1986). The influence of "low-balling" on buyers' compliance: Revisited.Psychology & Marketing (1986-1998), 3(2), 79.

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