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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Adopt Today

While Andrex puppies are helping to increase the sales of toilet tissue, their elder sibling is posing for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) advertisement, promoting pet adoptions. As suggested in the previous analysis, it is an example of an interactive advertisement. Apart from that, the ad contains more compliance techniques.

Why does nobody report how many dogs are saved everyday? Because good news are not as influential as bad news! This is called the negativity effect (Hodges, 1974). It was found that negative information had a greater effect than positive information on evaluations when participants were given personality descriptors varying in the amount of positive and negative content. In addition to this, the advertisement exploits scarcity technique (Brehm, 1966). The statement “Adopt today” suggests that you must do something now or the time will run out and the dog will die because “10 000 dogs are euthanized everyday”.

The innocent and peaceful look, suppliant face, needle pointed at the furry friend’s neck, the striking fact stated below it… What feelings does the ad bring out in you? It definitely plays on my feelings of guilt and empathy. It was found that guilt (Carlsmith & Gross, 1969) and empathy (Davis, 1996) were effective compliance instruments. Thus, while looking at the helpless dog, most people may find themselves feeling guilty and responsible for saving at least one animal’s life.

Why do we rarely see terriers or greyhounds posing for ads? The golden retriever model was chosen purposefully. This dog breed is one of the most popular breeds the whole world. This means that people are often exposed to golden retrievers. It is known that the mere exposure effect leads to liking an object (Zajonc, 1968).  Furthermore, that could probably explain why golden retrievers are perceived as so incredibly cute and attractive dogs! Both liking and physical attractiveness have been found to be influential in getting somebody to comply (Frenzen & Davis, 1990; Benson et al, 1976).

As this was the ad in press, you can imagine what would have happened if this kind of advertisement had been printed out in magazines for animal owners and lovers! The advertisement is simple but purely convincing: the helpless and beautiful dog convinces you to act to save a life while it is not too late, by making you feel guilty and empathetic.


Benson, P. L., Karabenick, S. A., & Lerner, R. M. (1976). Pretty pleases: The effects of physical attractiveness, race, and sex on receiving help. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 12, 409-415.

Brehem, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic Press. 

Carlsmith, J. M., & Gross, A. E. (1969). Some effects of guilt on compliance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 11, 232.

Davis, M. H. (1996). Empathy. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Frenzen, J. K., & Davis, H. L. (1990). Purchasing behaviour in embedded markets. Journal of Consumer Research, 17, 1-12.

Hodges, B. H. (1974). Effect of valence on relative weighting in impression formation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 378-381.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology9, 1-27.

Justina Pakulnyte (2nd blog)

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