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, February 11, 2015

Head On - A headache cure or cause?

The above advert is for an over the counter headache remedy called ‘Head On’. The advert has been joked about on YouTube extensively for its irritating repetition of the phrase ‘Head On – apply directly to the forehead’, with one user even looping the video multiple times to use as a joke to annoy people. It could be argued that regardless of people’s opinion of the advert, the fact that is it repetitive means it will be remembered, which in turn means it is effective. However, there is research which suggests otherwise; in other ways the advert can be seen as highly ineffective.

The advert clearly uses the technique of repetition, which has been found to be successful in increasing liking of something due to the mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968). However, subsequent research has discovered that people will eventually get bored of a repeated message and will become more motivated to argue against it, making said message less persuasive. Schumann, Petty and Clemons (1990) acknowledged this in a paper which set out to examine how variation of adverts could be more effective – the ‘repetition-variation hypothesis’.

In Schumann et al.’s (1990) study, 294 participants were assigned to either high or low personal relevance advertisements and either high or low cosmetic variation (same or different) advertisement groups. They were also put into groups for amount of repetitions of the advert (4 and 8 being moderate and high respectively), making the study a 2x2x2 design. They were shown short TV program segments separated by 20 ads lasting 22-25 seconds each, and were then asked to complete a questionnaire measuring the dependent variables (most importantly, attitude towards the advertising campaign).

Results showed that generally, when an advert was repeated, attitudes towards it were less favourable in the condition where there was no variation in comparison to the condition where the advert was varied over showings, particularly in the low relevance condition (p < .04). As the table below illustrates, significant variation effects were present for moderate exposures of the advert in terms of attitude towards the advertising campaign and the product itself.

These results led Schumann et al. (1990) to conclude that varying an advert (for example, cosmetic variation) that is shown many times will increase its favourability amongst viewers, and prevent them from becoming tired of the same repeated advert. Head on could perhaps use this technique by having different phrases about the product as a voiceover rather than the same one, or perhaps different people saying the phrase in whilst applying the product, instead of the same woman repeating the sentence.  


Schumann, D. W., Petty, R. E., & Clemons, D. S. (1990). Predicting the effectiveness of different strategies of advertising variation: A test of the repetition-variation hypotheses. Journal of Consumer Research, 192-202.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology9(2p2), 1.

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