The underwear advert for H&M above uses a huge range of persuasive techniques. Fashion adverts often need to do this since the products they advertise have no specific personal or opinionated attributions to their audience. The advert exploits the fact that people tend to take interest in humans as sexual and fertile beings (i.e. naked), as well as utilising the physically attractive-admirer altercast technique. However, what stands out the most (along with the hundreds of other adverts starring celebrities, star athletes and movie stars) is the use of the high status-admirer altercast technique.
This technique is used on the basis that we admire and seek to be like high-status persons or win their approval in order to acquire the preferential treatment they get. In this case, the star athlete, David Beckham, is used to advertise H&M’s new underwear, enabling the advert to incorporate many techniques, particularly the high-status admirer altercast.
Lefkowitz and colleagues (1955) were one of the first to empirically test this in their pedestrian violation study. They hypothesised and found that a naïve subject is more likely to violate a prohibition (in this case, crossing a road when the pedestrian traffic signal flashed ‘wait’) after watching a high-status person (compared to a low-status person) violate it. Participants unknowingly stood with a confederate at a crossing and were observed for any prohibition-violating or conforming behaviour. Violators were defined as those pedestrians reaching or passing the white line in the centre of the street within the 40 seconds that the signal flashed ‘wait’. Perceived status was manipulated through clothing changes, with high-status confederates dressed in freshly pressed suits, shined shoes, white shirts, ties and straw hats (clothing intended to typify a high-status person), and low-status confederates dressed in well-worn scuffed shoes, soiled patched trousers and crumpled blue denim shirts.
As shown above, when a perceived high-status confederate was seen to violate the prohibition, 14% of pedestrians violated the signal forbidding movement across the road (in comparison to 4% of those perceiving low-status confederates). Both experimental groups violated the prohibition more than controls (those in the condition with an absent confederate only violated the prohibition 1% of the time, regardless of status), but those in the high-status condition violated significantly more than both the low-status and the control conditions.
From this, we can understand how an advert using a high-status, highly respected or well-known person (in this case, a highly-admired professional athlete) will be effective in persuading customers to purchase certain products. People are more likely to succumb to these persuasive messages, even if the message is wrong, not good for them, or violates a law.
Lefkowitz, M., Blake, R.R., & Mouton, J.S. (1955). Status factors in pedestrian violation of traffic signals. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51, 704-706.