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.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

As tested on real curves

Here, six happy, beautiful women have been used to advertise Dove’s new firming range. However, there is more to this advert than first meets the eye. In fact, Dove has used a wide range of persuasive techniques to influence the audience to buy the product.

The advert portrays six women of different sizes, ages and ethnicities bearing (almost) all. By presenting many different types of women, a large range of women will be able to relate to them in terms of similarity. Research has shown that similarity between the source and the target can increase persuasion. Suedfeld et al. (1971), for example, found that people were more likely to sign a petition of a protester who was dressed similarly and to do so without even reading it! Furthermore, similarity has been shown to be effective if it is relevant to the subject (Berscheid, 1966). This advert, therefore, is particularly persuasive because it directly addresses similarity in terms of the body’s appearance and the product is presented as improving this. By portraying the women who have used the product as similar to the target audience, Dove effectively persuades the target to buy the lotion.

As a result of this similarity altercast, the target may be more likely to trust the source. Hovland and Weiss (1951) has found that trustworthy sources are more successful at persuading people on a range of issues compared to people who are untrustworthy. This highlights the women in the advert as a credible source of information who the target is more likely to be persuaded by.

The women, despite their size, age or race are all beautiful. Chaiken (1979) found that attractive communicators were more persuasive then those who were unattractive and Reingen and Kernan (1993) found that targets were more likely to agree to the requests of attractive communicators. This is what Cialdini (2007) refers to as a ‘halo effect,’ where physical attractiveness dominates how the person is perceived. We admire beautiful people and want to identify with them. Buying a product used by the beautiful, which is also aimed at further improving this beauty, enables us to do this.

The association between beauty, happiness and the product further persuades the target to buy it. Staats and Staats (1958) found that pairing names with either positive or negative words led to this meaning being transferred onto the names without the participants’ awareness. The advert portrays the women as laughing, smiling and having the confidence to bare their bodies. By linking the product with positive meaning the consumer unknowingly learns to associate the product with happiness, confidence and beauty.

Social consensus also plays a key role in this advertisement. If more people appear to be using the product, the more likely it is that we will use it too. Reingen (1982) found that after being presented with a list of other compliers, people were more likely to donate money. By presenting not one, not two, but six women in this advert, the advert provides social proof of people using the product. This social proof is reinforced by the statement. The statement ‘as tested on real curves’ implies that the product was used and approved of by these ‘real’ women and therefore reinforces this social proof whilst further emphasising the effectiveness of the product.


Berscheid, E. (1996). Opinion change and communicator-communicatee similarity and dissimilarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 670-680.

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

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York: HarperCollins.

Hovland, C. I., & Weiss, W. (1951). The influence of source credibility on communication effectiveness. Public Opinion Quarterly, 15, 635-650.

Reingen, P. H. (1982). Test of a list procedure for inducing compliance with a request to donate money. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67, 110-118.

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.

Staats, A. W., & Staats, C. K. (1958). Attitudes established by classical conditioning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 57, 37-40.

Suedfeld, P., Bochner, S., & Matas, C. (1971). Petitioner’s attire and petition signing by peace demonstrators: A field experiment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1, 278-283.

Alexandra Hampstead

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