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



Compare the Market is a well-known insurance company, synonymous with the use of Meerkats in their adverts. Associating a company or a product with something that is widely liked such as cute, talking Meerkats is a popular tool among profiteers. Research has shown that pairing something likeable makes people more likely to view the product positively. Gorn (1982) examined the influence of music in advertising on preferences using a classical conditioning approach. Results showed that exposure to attractive or unattractive music whilst being presented with a product directly affected choice behaviours. This demonstrates how influential popular stimuli can be on attitudes to the associated product.

An additional exploitative measure taken by Compare the Market is the social proof principle stating that we determine how to act by observing other people’s behaviour (Lun, Sinclair, Whitchurch, & Glenn, 2007). A crucial condition of this is similarity; by using ‘normal people’ in advertising, viewers are more likely to comply as they can relate with them. Steve Smith, a typical office-goer is portrayed at his desk with a cup of tea looking relatively bored, a situation many people can identify with. Numerous studies have demonstrated the effect of similarity on behaviour; one example showed that by just dressing similarly to participants, researcher’s requests for a dime to make a phone call were fulfilled over 60% of the time whereas when dressed differently they were given a dime in less than 50% of instances (Emswiller, Deaux, & Willits, 1971). Thus, showing Steve in typical workplace attire is an effective technique to increase sales for Compare the Market as viewers are likely to familiarize with him.

Social proof enables simplified thinking with regards to situations that would otherwise involve complex decision making. Profiteers often exploit the automatic shortcuts people make, knowing that they are likely to skip attending to the finer details and instead rely on heuristics. For example, the knowledge of subsequently receiving a free Meerkat toy could be enough to establish compliance in purchasing insurance. This has been indicated by much research, one example is a study by Burger, Ehrlichman, Raymond, Ishikawa and Sandoval (2006) investigating how likely students were to comply with a request to sharpen a pencil after receiving a bottle of water. Results showed that those who exchanged favours were more likely to comply with the request than those who did not receive a favour. Importantly, compliance rates were unaffected by the order the favours were performed in. In this way, it is feasible that the free Meerkat toy will increase sales, however the favours are unbalanced and the client is likely to feel obligated to repay the company after receiving the toy. Consumers should be cautious of the tactics outlined above, despite offers of attractive freebies like Meerkat toys!

Burger, J. M., Ehrlichman, A. M., Raymond, N. C., Ishikawa, J. M., & Sandoval, J. (2006). Reciprocal favor exchange and compliance. Social Influence, 1, 169-184.

Emswiller, T., Deaux, K., & Willits, J. E. (1971). Similarity, sex, and requests for small favors. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1, 284-291.

Gorn, G. J. (1982). The Effects of Music In Advertising On Choice Behavior: A Classical Conditioning Approach. Journal of Marketing, 46, 94–101.

Lun, J., Sinclair, S., Whitchurch, E. R.,  Glenn, C. (2007). (Why) do I think what you think? Epistemic social tuning and implicit prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 957-972.

Lizzie Hills

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