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 4, 2016

Impress your valentine for free!

As I was casually browsing the internet for free stuff, I happened across a certain deal. It wasn't a traditional advertisement, but a fellow customer posting a code for a free customised Valentine's day card at I thought: it's free! Why not? So I quickly made an account, added some photographs of myself and my boyfriend, and had it sent within 10 minutes.

I had no intention of ever sending another customised card (much preferring the 50p "cheapskate model" from Card Factory. However, as soon as I'd sent the card, I received an email telling me how awesome I was, and how excited the recipient would be. "Get ready for the calls, OMGs and tears of joy," the email said. "You're going to be spreading some serious LOVE." And maybe they're right. It was fun, choosing photographs and positioning them with the optimal amount of comedic zoom. It's vaguely exciting to think how confused my boyfriend will be when he opens it (we don't even send Valentine's cards, being above that kind of manufactured corporate holiday (read: poor students)). But most importantly: I'm committed. Like they said in the email, I'm an awesome, custom-card-sending person now. It's just part of my identity, because why else would I have sent one?

This is an example not only of a loss-leader promotion, but of the foot-in-the-door technique. This technique works by getting someone to complete an action that makes a small statement about their identity, making them more likely to internalise that statement and make bigger commitments later. In this case, the small commitment of spending a few minutes to send a card for free leads me to consider myself the kind of person who sends customised greeting cards. And when the next birthday comes up, maybe I'll remember this new aspect of my identity and return to the same site (I already have an account, after all) for the bigger commitment of actually paying for a card.

This effect was studied by Freedman and Fraser in 1966, where researchers asked home-owners to put up an unattractive sign in their window, promoting safe driving. Fewer than 20% of these home-owners agreed. However, when they were first asked to sign a petition that also promoted safe driving two weeks earlier, over 55% of home-owners agreed to the larger request of putting up an even bigger sign in their lawn, also promoting safe driving. This can be seen in figure 1.
Figure 1: the proportion of people who agreed to displaying a safe driving sign, both in the control group and the group who agreed to a small request earlier.

When people agreed to sign the petition, they may have observed their own behaviour and decided that they are people who care about safe driving. Then, when later asked to put up a sign promoting safe driving, they may find it more difficult to refuse without challenging their own identities: "if I care about safe driving enough to sign a petition, why shouldn't I put up a sign?" A petition is a technically public statement, and people feel committed to stand by their publicly stated beliefs.  In this way, people are much more likely to comply with a larger request when it follows a smaller one that they have agreed to.

And for anyone who's interested in becoming the kind of person who sends custom greeting cards, the code is FREE1.


Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4(2), 195-202.

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