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, January 24, 2014


This is an advert created by the UK government to encourage people to quite simply wear a seatbelt.

The short clip pursues a “Consequences Template” (Goldenberg et al, 1999), specifically an inverted consequences version which highlights what could happen if the advice from the advert is not followed. By ignoring the message of the film and not wearing a seatbelt, you could die. These consequences are shown in quite graphic detail and in slow-motion so the viewer has time to process exactly what is on the screen. It is not a surprising finding that the longer a person is exposed to a stimulus, the better their ability to recall it is (e.g. Laughery et al, 1971), and so using slow-motion gives a greater chance the audience will remember the horrible details of how this person died and that it was because they did not wear a seatbelt.

In addition to the display of these scenes a clear, monotonous voiceover tells the story of what happened to Richard. This contributes to the central route of persuasion in Petty and Cacioppo’s (1986) Elaboration-Likelihood Model. The lack of strong peripheral cues, for example an attractive person on the screen or hearing a person who uses varying pitch and volume in speech, leaves the viewer to consider the content of what they are being shown and told. Yes, a person was in a car collision and the results were tragic, however the important information is that this was because he was not wearing a seatbelt. Indeed, the campaign is blunt about telling people to “think”.

Research has shown that using the central route to persuasion is more likely to result in a lasting attitude change (e.g. Petty & Wegener, 1998). This is particularly important given the nature of this topic, as it is obviously important for people to retain the value of wearing a seatbelt as opposed to perhaps falling back into old habits after they have forgotten about the advert and its message.

The clip begins with the voiceover “Richard didn’t want to die, but he couldn’t stop himself”. After his story is told, the viewer is brought into the situation and is asked “what’s stopping you?”. This commands the whole attention of the audience as it is the only thing on screen and is accompanied by silence. Burnkrant and Howard (1984) found that rhetorical questions such as this are useful in encouraging more processing and elaboration of message content. Therefore, this and the culmination of persuasive techniques used in the clip lead to one inevitable conclusion. What’s stopping you? Nothing.  


Burnkrant, R. E., & Howard, D. J. (1984). Effects of the use of introductory rhetorical questions versus statements on information processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1218-1230.

Goldenberg, J., Mazursky, D., & Solomon, S. (1999). The fundamental templates of quality ads. Marketing Science, 18, 333-351.

Laughery, K. R., Alexander, J. F., & Lane, A. B. (1971). Recognition of human faces: Effects of target exposure time, target position, pose position, and type of photograph. Journal of Applied Psychology, 55, 477-483.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In Communication and Persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer New York.

Petty, R. E., & Wegener, D. T. (1998). Attitude change: Multiple roles for persuasion variables. The Handbook of Social Psychology, 1, 227-240.

Emma Barry

1 comment:

  1. Really good Emma, well done. I 'd also say that people have better memories for outrageous ads, and this one is shocking.


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