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.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sheaffer could have done better in the 1920s

Sheaffer's "Lifetime" was one of the best-selling fountain pen in the 1920s. It has a classic flat-top design and fills conveniently with the lever-filling system. It was also among the first pens to be made of celluloid plastic (Sheaffer called it "Radite"), when the majority of the pens were still made of the relatively fragile and tarnishable hard rubber. Here is a good example from their 1920s advertisements, where Sheaffer proudly stated their first introduced lifetime guarantee on the pen point, along with other few facts about the pen. While there is nothing particularly wrong about this advertisement, it seems quite dull and conservative, and Sheaffer would have done better if they learned from their biggest rivalry Parker. 

Parker launched a series of advertisements that focused on the new material being used on their Duofold pens (following Sheaffer's use of it on their "Lifetime" model). These advertisements were highly successful and effective due to the use of the extreme attribute version of the Extreme Situation Template, by showing examples of extreme use of the product (Goldenberg, Mazursky, & Solomon, 1999). Parker Duofold pens were dropped from a plane flying at 3000 feet and also from the top of a 25 floors building, then picked up undamaged and still write perfectly. This depicted an extreme situation where the attribute of a product, here being the durable new material the pen was made of, is exaggerated to an unrealistic proportion. 

Goldenberg, Mazursky, and Solomon (1999) examined how the utilization of extreme situations could affect people's judgements on advertisements. Participants were randomly assigned to one the three training groups: "no training", "free association" and "template training", and were then instructed to design an advertisement for anti-dandruff shampoo. In "no training" group, participants were only given brief training, without additional training. In the "free association" group, participants were trained to use the free association method. In the "template training" group, participants were trained to utilize a creativity template, an example being the extreme situation template. A different group of participants were then asked to make judgement ratings on the advertisements produced.

Table 1
Table 1 shows that advertisements produced by participants with extreme situation template training, were rated significantly higher in creativity, brand attitude and humor judgement ratings, than those produced by participants with free association training or no training. This suggested that extreme situation template is an effective persuasive technique that leads to high positive judgements.

Sheaffer should have advertised the durability of their "Lifetime" pen barrels, using the extreme situation template just like Parker did. Being made of the same celluloid material as Parker's Duofold pens, Sheaffer "Lifetime" pen barrels would have easily withstood the same tests (dropping from 3000 feet plane etc). The above advertisement could also be improved by showing the facts visually in extreme situations. For example, an illustration could be shown of a "Lifetime" pen nib writing through a huge pile of carbon copy paper, or being used as a dart in a darts game etc. 

Sheaffer "Lifetime" was a revolutionary pen in the 1920s, with its use of celluloid plastic and lever-filling system, as well as the lifetime guarantee that was unheard of back then. What a pity that Sheaffer was not as creative in their advertisements. 


Goldenberg, J., Mazursky, D., & Solomon, S. (1999). The fundamental templates of quality ads. Marketing science18(3), 333-351.

-Conan Wan

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