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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On a Virgin holiday, you're the stars!

This is an advert selling Virgin Holidays. It begins with a normal family in their car with a gray filter over the lens to make the scene seem very dull. The advert moves rapidly to the family being on a Virgin holiday in Florida, which is full of vibrant colours. While this family is at home they are known as the ‘renowned car parking space missers’, however when they are on the Virgin holiday they are depicted as being the perfect family that every family wants to be like (e.g. ‘other families buy your photo at the end of the ride’). ‘On a Virgin holiday to Florida you're the stars’. Virgin is trying to get every family member watching this advert to imagine themselves being on this wonderful holiday, where they will be just like the perfect family shown and have an amazing trip where everyone is happy all the time (because that happens on family holidays!).

The persuasion technique used in this advert is imagery sells. This technique is where the individual imagines them carrying out an action and how it will alter their life. This act of imagination increases the chance of them actually doing the act. Gregory, Cialdini and Carpenter (1982) demonstrated this in their study using structured scenarios to lead participants to imagine themselves experiencing an event which would led them to believe it would happen to them. In one of their experiments, subjects in middle-class neighborhoods had door-to-door salespersons try to sell them cable TV subscriptions. There were two conditions; the “information” control condition and the “imagination” experimental condition. In the information condition they were simply given the information on the advantages of cable TV, e.g. “CATV will provide a broader entertainment and informational service to its subscribers.” On the other hand, on top of this information, the experimental condition participants were asked to “take a moment and imagine how CATV will provide you with a broader entertainment and informational service.” 

After this participants completed a questionnaire investigating their views towards cable TV. On completion of this, they were provide with a postcard to use if they required further information on cable TV. Participants were also offered a free trial of cable TV for a week and an opportunity to subscribe to the service. Table 1 shows the number of participants per condition who participated in the compliance behaviours after the visit from the salesperson. It was found that those in the imagination condition were significantly more likely than the information condition participants to accept the free trial week of cable (65.8% vs. 41.5%) and later subscribe to cable TV (47.4% vs. 19.5%). There were no differences between the groups on the amount of postcards returned.

Table 1 – persons per condition that engaged in the compliance behaviours

Thus, this shows that imagining something can have a powerful effect on later behaviour. Both conditions were given the same information, yet imagining getting cable TV caused a significant difference in compliance. So with the Virgin advert, imagining yourself being on this perfect holiday is likely to make the viewer more compliant and book it.


Gregory, W.L., Cialdini, R.B., & Carpenter, K.M. (1982) Self-relevant scenarios as mediators of likelihood estimates and compliance: does imagining make it so? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 89-99.

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