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, January 29, 2015

A picture is worth a thousand words

Above is an example from a series of Korean adverts used to promote a Samsung MP3 player back in 2008.  The persuasive technique used here is a visual metaphor – the representation of an object or idea by a visual image bearing the qualities the advertiser wishes to associate with the first.  In this case, the headphones (presumably attached to said Samsung MP3 player) are represented by a tiny rapper performing directly into the listener’s ear; the take home message being that the quality and clarity experienced with Samsung products is comparable to listening to the artist live.  The visual metaphor guides the viewer’s information processing so that they selectively focus their attention on this property, creating an association between the product and high quality sound.

Jeong (2008) demonstrated the persuasive effect of visual metaphors.  Participants were shown two Mitsubishi car advertisements; one claiming a car was good for journeys and the other that it was a smooth ride.  They were randomly assigned to one of 3 conditions:

1. Literal with verbal anchoring – the advert consisted of a product image of the car with the verbal text “Journey” or “Smooth”

2. Metaphorical with verbal anchoring – the adverts were an image of the car combined with either a suitcase and the text “Journey” or an iron and the text “Smooth”

3. Metaphorical without verbal anchoring – only the images of cars combined with a suitcase or an iron were seen

Each participant viewed the two adverts, both in the form of their assigned condition.  Immediately after each advert, subjects completed a questionnaire with a number of measures (see Table 1).

Table 1 shows the results.  Significant differences were found across all three conditions for cognitive elaboration (how much thought the advert provoked) and source credibility, with the metaphorical advert without verbal anchoring rated highest and literal lowest. Outcome attitudes were higher for metaphorical conditions compared to the literal condition, but not significantly different with or without verbal anchoring.   The metaphor without verbal anchoring advert also scored higher than other conditions on intent to purchase, and on product belief but not always significantly.

The results of the study suggest that adverts using visual metaphors may be more persuasive than those with literal images.  These were found to provoke more cognitive processing and were perceived as a more credible source, which could potentially explain the more positive attitudes, increased product belief and ultimately greater purchase intention.  Furthermore, the study highlights how a visual metaphor can be just as persuasive, if not more so, without a verbal explanation.  Perhaps this is why the Samsung advert is so simple yet so effective - a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Jeong, S. H. (2008). Visual metaphor in advertising: is the persuasive effect attributable to visual argumentation or metaphorical rhetoric? Journal of Marketing Communications, 14(1), 59-73.

Caroline Glascock

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