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

The Next Stage of Evolution: Overcoming the Challenges a Successful Past Presents

Guinness is a company that is known for quirky, but brilliant advertising. Indeed most people hold it in high regard simply because the adverts are enjoyable, not because of the product itself. After-all who doesn’t recognise the Guinness Toucan or the “Guinness is good for you” slogan. This is a company that has been around since 1759! To give some perspective on that: in 1759 The British Museum opened, in 1759 the first life insurance company was incorporated, and in 1759 George Washington got married. Guinness has a longevity that very few other companies can boast.

But why is this preamble important? Well, imagine for me now that you are put in charge of Guinness’s next advertising campaign! How do you rise to the challenge of creating something new and different that lives up to the extreme standards expected of such a prestigious brand? Think you could manage it?

Well, consider this for me… a large factor in the way our attitudes are shaped is as a result of contrast (Pratkanis, 2011). Our judgements do not – as much as we’d like to think they do – exist in a rational bubble of their own. Contrast is the term put to the phenomenon that your judgment of something is evaluated with respect to prior experiences. Of course this works both ways, a great advert preceded by a dreadful one makes you more favourable towards the great one, but similarly a great advert before a good advert makes you far less favourable to the good one. After 250 years of entertaining adverts to its name are you still confident of running that new ad campaign for Guinness effectively?

The above advert is one that does rise to the challenges that only a company of such longevity must contend with. There are three reasons that I believe it works so effectively, the first was described when this advert was posted on this blog last year, detailing its use of the Time Leap variant of The Dimensionality Alteration template (Goldenberg et al., 1999), this is a template that presents an ordinary situation and then shifts it to a different time period for entertainment value, in this case presenting the evolution of man backwards, starting and ending with the conclusion that the Guinness drinker is the latest step in the evolutionary ladder – which is probably true! I’d love to believe that the conception of this advert arose out of a tongue-in-cheek comment from one of the makers about the longevity of the brand. For a more detailed look at this technique in this particular advert do have a look at the previous post, which succinctly and effectively presents itself (

The second aspect is, very simply, humour. Humour is known to leave a more favourable impression of the product with the viewer (Eisend, 2009). While overall the advert is maybe entertaining more than amusing, there are a few ‘chuckle moments’, like the bloke’s eyes moving when frozen in the ice and the closing moment where our three characters have arrived back at the dawn of time as small lizards, unimpressed with the watering hole they find themselves at! The advert uses absurdity, which Arias-Blozmann et al. (2009) found to be a strong attention grabber, to produce better brand recognition in relation to non-absurd adverts, and a way of turning the attitudes of those unfavourable to a brand around, while having no negative impact on those already in favour of it – win win I guess, until perhaps absurdity becomes the norm!

Lastly the advertisers take advantage of the human propensity to be swayed by irrelevant background details. Gorn (1982) investigated whether favourable background elements of adverts – in their first experiment this was liked versus disliked music – manipulated the choice participants made in their selection of basically identical options. Amusingly it did, though no participant stated this as their reason for the choice that 75% of participants were swayed to by the favourable music. I’m sure it’s not just my preference, but the background music to this advert is likable, I’d go so far as to say the sort of music that would bring a smile to anyone’s face. Gorn finds that music holds more of a sway on decision making than having more product information, here the Guinness advertisers show little information of the product – surely this is no longer necessary – and instead tap into the persuasive lure of background elements.

So there you have it, three simple steps to triumphing over the contrast goliath that comes from such a long and successful past; tongue-in-cheek reference to the longevity of the brand, absurdity of humour, and toe-tapping music, simple really!

 AJ King



Arias-Bolzmann, L., Chakraborty, G., & Mowen, J. C. (2000). Effects of absurdity in advertising: The moderating role of product category attitude and the mediating role of cognitive responses. Journal of Advertising, 29, 35-49.

Eisend, M. (2009). A meta-analysis of humor in advertising. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 37, 191-203.

Goldenberg, J., Mazursky, D., & Solomon, S. (1999). The fundamental templates of quality ads. Marketing Science, 18(3), 333-351.

Gorn, G. J. (1982). The effects of music in advertising on choice behaviour: a classical conditioning approach. Journal of Marketing, 46, 94-101

Pratkanis, A. R. (2011). The Science of Social Influence: Advances and Future Progress. Hove, England: Psychology Press.

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