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.

Monday, February 3, 2014

We’re Starbucks…Nice to meet you

This advert by Starbucks has used the rule of reciprocity to tempt potential customers; by offering a free latte, people are likely to comply not because their name will be written on their cup, but because they will receive a free drink! This will inevitably result in them feeling obligated to return the favour. Greenberg and Shapiro (1971) demonstrated that when people feel they will be unable to return the favour they are less likely to accept it. So, by emphasizing that this gesture is “only a little thing”, they are reassuring viewers and so will be more likely to accept the free drink.

Furthermore, because this offer has been given a time limit, Starbucks have employed the scarcity principle, a commonly used weapon of influence by profiteers which exploits the automatic shortcuts people make; we typically assume that the more available an item is, the less quality it possesses. For example, Theo, Verhallena and Robben (1994) examined product availability and preferences for books. Results showed that participants preferred the books of limited availability in comparison to those with unlimited availability as these were deemed more costly and unique. In this way, setting a time limit on their free sample makes the drink more attractive and people are likely to comply.

This limited time effect is exaggerated when competition with others becomes apparent and this was evident in the same research. The most preferred books were those of limited availability as a result of market conditions such as popularity and limited supply as opposed to those of accidental limited availability (Theo, Verhallena and Robben, 1994). Starbucks have portrayed a busy atmosphere in the advert by speeding up footage of customers purchasing drinks, making their products appear to be in high demand. This also exploits the social proof principle; people have a tendency to follow others and by seeing numerous ‘normal’ people in Starbucks, viewers are likely to follow their lead.

Finally, if these methods weren’t enough to persuade people to get their free latte, the advert gives a friendly message encouraging people to introduce themselves and ends by saying “we’re Starbucks…nice to meet you”. This is an attempt to get people to like their company and view their shops as friendly and welcoming. Research has shown that liking increases compliance: Goei, Massi Lindsey, Boster, Skalski, & Bowman (2003) found that favours increased liking and that this likability in turn affected compliance. This friendly presentation could also be a bid to change the face of the company; Starbucks are generally located in urban areas, with an individualist nature and so portraying their company as a friendly place to go with interactions on a name-to-name basis, people are more likely to comply.


Goei, R., Massi Lindsey, L. L., Boster, F. J., Skalski, P. D., & Bowman, J. M. (2003). The mediating roles of liking and obligation on the relationship between favors and compliance. Communication Research, 30, 178-197.

Greenberg, M. S., & Shapiro, S. P. (1971). Indebtedness: An adverse aspect of asking for and receiving help. Sociometry, 34, 290-301.

Theo, M.M., Verhallena, H. S. J., & Robben, B. (1994). Scarcity and preference: An experiment on unavailability and product evaluation. Journal of Economic Psychology, 15, 315–331.

Lizzie Hills

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