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.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

You Look Like Your Cigarette, and You're Only 42

Rollers out, best knitted cardigan and worst (non)supporting bra adorned; Emmerdale recorded. Leather sandals on for your weekly scheduled Bingo with Gladys and Petunia. Head through the door...

"Surprise! Happy 42nd Birthday!"

Notice something odd? Good. This advertisement depicts a lovely old biddy lighting her cigarette using the '42' shaped candle's flame of her garish looking cake. Her raison d’être in this advertisement is to accentuate the detriments of smoking: premature ageing. Immediately, the target of the advertisement stands out, due to the unusual use of the cake as a cigarette lighter. Perhaps they were on a tight budget. Or perhaps this tactic was used to capture your attention. Although the nictonell product itself isn't overtly promoted, the advertisers employ the negativity effect, which contends that negative advertising is more effective than positive advertising1 in order to highlight the negative consequences of smoking, and thus covertly promotes use of the product via the deterrence from cigarettes.

Why use this shrivelled old dear instead of a lusty model? After all, attractive individuals can exert a much stronger influence in advertising due to psychological mechanisms such as the halo effect, the finding that people tend to attribute other positive qualities to attractive individuals.2 Think about it. The blackened fingernails and ubiquitous facial creases personify ageing, used to inject fear. Strong and Kubas observed a positive linear relationship between fear in advertising and consumer response3. However, highly fearful advertisements have been found to be ineffective, leading to an aversive response in consumers.4

What makes this advert clever, therefore, is that it successfully divorces itself from the old, weathered NHS "smoking kills" campaigns. Instead, it warns us that smoking will leave an indelible aesthetic signature of leathered, pock marked skin and dreadfully oversized glasses. Incidentally, this message addressing ageing covertly preaches a rather familiar sentiment: smoking will bring the Grim Reaper to your door faster than Hannah Thomas to Nic Hoopers lectures (Sorry, Hannah). Clearly, this old biddy drew the short straw for this campaign.

As if this old biddy hasn't suffered enough, her mere presence in this advertisement is also persuasive. The use of this lovely biddy would induce the similarity effect in the more aged observers, which contends that people are more likely to attend and respond to an advertisement if an individual depicted is similar to them5. When coupled with the sharp contrast between the vibrant, youthful looking cake and the poor weathered old biddy, thus accentuating the negative aspects of this poor unfortunate woman6, suddenly observing similarity fosters discomfort and self-threat of identity, providing ideal fertile ground to nurture change in the individual.7

Every acute detail in this old biddy was planned, you see. Young women focus more on how they display their appearance than young men, and view ageing negatively compared men (who perceive themselves as quite the sex gods with age....really, it's science!)7 suddenly, it's not such a coincidence that this darling old pensioner here is female, (and a rather grim looking one at that) is it?

This advertisement assaults your senses. It captures your attention, and threatens your aesthetic interests as well as your longevity. It really makes you wonder: is smoking really a worthy habit after all? Am I ready for hair rollers? (Now's a good time to admit that I've been using hair rollers since First Year..embrace them, my friends) A latent predeliction towards Bingo before my time? 

...and that's the point.


1Ahluwalia, R. (2002). How prevalent is the negativity effect in consumer environments?. Journal of Consumer Research, 29, 270-279.
2Praxmarer, S., & Rossiter, J. R. (2009). Physically attractive presenters and persuasion: an experimental investigation of alternative explanations for the" Patzer effect". Chicago              
3Strong, J. T., & Kubas, K. M. (1993). The Optimal Level of Fear-Arousal in Advertising: An Empirical Study. Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, 15, 93-99.
4LaTour, M. S., & Zahra, S. A. (1989). Fear Appeals as Advertising Strategy: Should They Be Used? Journal of Consumer Marketing, 6, 61 - 70.
5Werkmeister, W. H. (1948). An introduction to critical thinking. Lincoln, NB: Johnsen Publishing.  
6Cialdini, R. B. (1993). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Chicago: HarperCollins.
7Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human relations, 7, 117-140.
8Pratkanis, A. R., & Aronson, E. (2001). Age of propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion. New York: W. H. Freeman.

9Halliwell, E., & Dittmar, H. (2003).  A Qualitative Investigation of Women's and Men's Body Image Concerns and Their Attitudes Toward Aging. Sex roles, 49, 675-684.

Laura Cunniffe

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