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, February 5, 2014

An Expensive Lunch: NatWest Advert Re-analysis

Ever had that crushing, soul-destroying realisation that you have lost something terribly important?  NatWest understands…

In this advert NatWest presents a problem (your portal to your savings has been rendered unusable), after which they – to our relief – provide the solution for us (“Get emergency cash…”).  When someone first reads this advert, they might experience a heart-stopping moment when it occurs to them that this tragedy may befall them, too (or it reminds them of a similar past experience, thereby recalling that panic response).  This is an example of valence framing (see Pratkanis, 2007), as it presents the new service in the context of a loss.  Because to us humans “losses loom larger than gains” (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984, p. 346), someone seeing this advert will be motivated to stop this from happening to them, hence will be more likely to make use of the service; NatWest have essentially started a fear appeal (see Pratkanis, 2007).  So is it successful?  Research has indicated that such an appeal is likely to be effective if: a) it arouses a strong reaction (the thought of losing one’s life savings will probably do that); b) it provides a way of overcoming this fear (the problem is immediately followed by a solution here, indicated by the helpful red arrow – which, incidentally, is a feature of the NatWest logo, thus they are actively associating themselves with being helpful); and c) the solution seems possible to act on (they provide four different ways to get in contact and sign up to the service) (Leventhal, 1970; Maddux & Rogers, 1983). 

This advert plays on our desire to avoid a negative outcome from a loss, thus makes effective use of an inverted consequences creative template (Goldenberg, Mazursky & Solomon, 1999).  The situation presented is something of a cliché; so well-known is the ‘dog ate my […]’ story that its use here may even be slightly amusing, until one realises its potentially dire consequences. 

NatWest ask us the question, “Isn’t it time you switched to a more helpful bank?” (the answer of course being “Yes”, but it is not specific to NatWest necessarily...).  Generally, rhetorical questions increase the attention we pay to messages, thus making them more persuasive, if this message is strong (as mentioned above, the emotion evoked would make this message strong)  (see Pratkanis, 2007).  The question also uses repetition, in that the phrase, “Helpful Banking”, is also the slogan.  Repetition of this kind has been shown to increase the believability of a message (Cacioppo & Petty, 1989) – something a bank may well need to keep in mind.  Finally, the question, along with other phrases such as “…unfortunately your card…”, establish the bank as one’s ally against the canine foe that represents typical bad luck.  This near- friendship mimicry through the direct address of a question to the reader is as near to an interaction with said reader as a still advert can get.  All in all, someone seeing this advert can but agree with its message, and will be relieved that there is a bank out there that cares.

Finally, this advert appeals to our innate need for control in life.  In a way, NatWest make use of storytelling techniques (Pratkanis, 2007) by listing Barney’s snacks in a chain of events until we reach the point of him having chewed the card up.  The dog is depicted as fairly calm (bored, even), the frenzy of the day’s feast having already subsided.  This image is arguably more effective than one of Barney in full swing would have been, as the tragedy has already happened at this point; it emphasises our lack of control over such matters, and the viewer is motivated to latch onto a way of regaining control. 

In summary, this advert makes effective use of both emotional and cognitive persuasion techniques.  A bank is probably best advised not to stray into the realms of ‘style over substance’ in order to maintain its reputation, hence this advert sticks to a practical, plausible situation in order to promote a service.  This advert is not particularly colourful or ground-breaking but fulfils its purpose, and its message is clear:  Life’s a b*tch, but we’re here when it chews you up. 

Cacioppo, J. T., & Petty, R. E. (1989). Effects of message repetition on argument processing, recall, and persuasion. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 10, 3-12. 

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

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1984). Choices, values, and frames. American Psychologist 39, 341-350. 

Leventhal, H. (1970). Findings and theory in the study of fear communications. Advances in Experimental Psychology, 5, 119-186.

Maddux, J. E., & Rogers, R. W. (1983). Protection motivation and self-efficacy: A revised theory of fear appeals and attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 469-479.

Pratkanis, A. (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Psychology Press, New York, NY.

-- Izzy Fawdry

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