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, February 12, 2015

50 points for knocking down Doris

I think it’s safe to say that Paddy Power, the biggest bookmaker in Ireland, has had its fair share of outrageous, controversial and downright offensive adverts, and this one does not disappoint. This Paddy Power advert was created to show that there are a wide range of things that people can bet on. This is shown in the advert which depicts two old ladies struggling to walk across a zebra crossing, with bubbles next to them showing odds. Paddy Power claimed that these odds were betting on who would get to the other side of the road first. However, this advert alongside its caption “Let’s make things more interesting,” sparked outrage amongst the elderly community. This is because the ad gave the impression that bets were going on which of the OAPs would be mowed down first by the oncoming van. Despite the comical intentions behind the advert, this led to the ad being crowned the most complained about UK advert of 2002 (Telegraph, 2012).

The advert tries to use the technique of humour, to make the audience laugh. Humour creates a positive mood which becomes associated with the specific message or brand that caused that happy mood, and consequently changes the audiences’ attitudes towards it (Chan, 2011). However, the problem with this advert is that it has overstepped the mark, as it depicts hitting OAPs as a sport. Its ageist and demeaning message has caused the ad to be associated with negativity, which put many people off betting with Paddy Power, and could even cause some drivers to reconstruct their own demonstrations of this.

Studies have shown that humour is not always the most effective technique to make subjects remember information, especially when the information contains unrelated humour. Kaplan and Pascoe (1977) studied this, by investigating the effects of different types of humorous examples on the understanding and recall of lecture content. 508 University students watched a 20 minute videotape of a lecture on Freudian personality theory, in one of four versions. The lecture was either presented in a serious version, or one of three humorous versions. These humorous lecture versions consisted of either humorous examples that were related to the concepts spoken about in the lecture (concept humour), humorous examples unrelated to the lecture concepts (non-concept humour), or a mixture of humours examples that were both related and unrelated to the topics spoken about in the lecture (mixed humour). The same test was administered to subjects twice: once as a comprehension test immediately after the lecture, and 6 weeks later as a retention test. The test consisted of 11 multiple-choice questions about the lecture content. Six questions regarded humour items, and 5 questions regarded non-humour items. Subjects had to select the best answer from four alternatives. Results can be shown in Tables 1 and 2 below.

Table 1: The mean number of correct answers given by each group, on the immediate, comprehension test, regarding the humorous and non-humorous items that appeared in the lecture content.

Table 2: The mean number of correct answers given by each group, on a six week delayed recall test, regarding the humorous and non-humorous items that appeared in the lecture content.

As Table 1 reveals, subjects who were exposed to humorous lecture versions performed equivalently to those exposed to the serious lecture, in the immediate comprehension test. As Table 2 shows, after a six week delay, subjects who watched humorous lectures showed improved scores on non-humour items. However, there total performance was still not significantly better than students who had watched the serious lecture. In addition, Table 1 and 2 show that on average, there was a non-significant trend for subjects who were exposed to relevant (concept) humour to remember more humorous items associated with the lecture, than those who were exposed to unrelated (non-concept) humour. This suggests that related humour may be more effective than unrelated humour, at remembering a humorous message.   

This can be applied to the Paddy Power advert mentioned earlier. In this case, whilst the advert does contain a humorous message (two old ladies crossing the road), the humour itself is unrelated to the sports betting that Paddy Power is affiliated with. As a result, this has offended many people in the process. For the advert to be accepted, the advert should focus on a more relevant, humorous message, which does not insult its target audience. For instance, if Paddy Power are going to stick with their claim that the advert depicts a race to reach the other side of the road, then they could remove the imagery of the vehicle in the background. This would implement a more relevant, yet still humorous message.  

Chan, F. E. (2011). Selling through entertaining: The effect of humour in television advertising in Hong Kong, Journal of Marketing Communications, 17(5), 319-336.

Kaplan, R. M. & Pascoe, G. C. (1977). Humorous lectures and humorous examples: some effects upon comprehension and retention, Journal of Educational Psychology, 69(1), 61–65.

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