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

Want a happy family? Just get Netflix...

This Netflix advert uses a number of persuasive tactics in order to sell us their service. It depicts a nice, wholesome family scene of parents and their children choosing, from a wide variety of options, what to watch together. 

At first glance it seems obvious what sales technique is being used. There are two colourful buttons, both promoting the same thing: a one-month free trial, which plays on the rule of reciprocity. By offering the consumer a free trial, the company gets them to feel obligated in sticking with them, as they feel indebted. This was shown to be the case by Vance Packard (1957), who found that by offering free trials of cheese, it dramatically increased sales in only a few hours.

Everyone likes free stuff and so most people jump at the chance of something for nothing, yet they do not like the uneasy feeling of being indebted. So, once the free trial is over, they carry on with the service even though they now have to pay.

The clever thing about the free month trial is the fact that it also plays on the rule of consistency. In order to get this freebie, you need to sign up to the service with a credit card, meaning that you have made a written commitment to the company. Netflix don’t make any profit by you signing up, but the further subscription fees are a direct consequence of this free trial.

Howard (1990) clearly showed the consistency principle following a commitment by a simple experiment: after being asked if they would allow a charity representative to sell them cookies, (18% of which said yes), the majority (89%) did later buy cookies when approached. 

Also, the fact that this free trial offer is presented twice means that the ad is using yet another sales technique: repetition of a message. This tactic has been proven to enhance liking of an object through mere exposure (Zajonc, 1968) as well as improve perceived validity of such message (Boehm, 1994).

Two less obvious compliance techniques used in this ad are the physically attractive-admirer altercast and the similarity altercast. I think it’s safe to say that the family members depicted are above average in appearance, and research has shown that attractive individuals are more effective in selling (Reingen & Kernan, 1993) and persuading others (Chaiken, 1979). The family depicted is also the traditional, “nuclear family”, appealing to families and showing them how great netflix is as a way to relax and spend quality time together. The ad is trying to appear similar to its potential customers and so increasing it’s persuasive power as we like people who have been shown to be similar to us (Burger et al., 2004). Festinger (1954) also showed that individuals look to others who are shown to be similar to themselves for advice on making decisions.

So if this happy, attractive family subscribe to Netflix, why don’t you? Especially when you get a whole month free…


Boehm, L. E. (1994). The validity effect: A search for mediating variables. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 285-293.

Burger, J. M., Messian, N., Patel, S., Prado, A., & Anderson, C. (2004). What a coincidence! The effects of incidental similarity on compliance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 35-43.

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

Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.

Howard, D. J. (1990). The influence of verbal responses to common greetings on compliance behaviour: The foot-in-the-mouth effect. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20, 1185-1196.

Packard, V. O. (1957). The Hidden Persuaders. New York: D. McKay Company. 

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, 25-38.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). The attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Monogragh Supplement, 9, 1-27.

Zara Heal

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.