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.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Getting the best deal on insurance - The psychology of

We are all familiar with the meerkat adverts associated with the comparison website comparethemarket.  Since their introduction in 2009, Aleksandr Orlov, the main character in the adverts, has received a huge fandom.  The site began using compare the meerkat adverts in 2009 and in just one year rose from a low ranked comparison website to the fourth most popular in UK (Sweney, 2010).  So why have meerkat adverts made the company so successful?

Figure 1 - Alexsandr's popularity on twitter

1. Animated characters
The effectiveness of animated characters has been shown through studies such as that comparing the relative effectiveness of celebrity endorsed adverts to animated character endorsements for purchase intention (Sandip, & Bhagyashree, 2016).  Participants were shown adverts for various cereal and had to evaluate their liking for and preferences between products.  It was found that participants preferred adverts and were more likely to purchase them when they were endorsed by cartoon characters.  Therefore, merely the use of cartoon characters is effective in eliciting persuasion.

The results from the study discussed above, and the effectiveness of the meerkat advert can be explained through two mechanisms.  The use of a loveable, furry meerkat which serves as an attractive source given its cuteness and secondly anthropomorphism.  The use of cute sources is likely to be successful because it prompts individuals to use the peripheral route in the elaboration-likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979).  When taking this pathway to persuasion, viewers are not persuaded through scrutiny of the message but rather by a simple cue, in this case a form of attractiveness. 

The method of attractiveness being used as a method to persuasion has been shown to be effective through numerous studies.  Although few studies have assessed the specific form of cuteness, many studies have found a more general effect of attractiveness.  Indeed, Snyder and Rohtbart (1971) presented persuasive communication to participants along with either an attractive photo, an unattractive photo or no photo.  It was found that attractive communicators were more persuasive than unattractive ones or those without a picture.  This suggests that the use of cute characters will be effective because cuteness is a form of attractiveness, with beauty being the other (Rhodes, 2006).  This assumption was investigated through a study conducted by Phillips and Stanton (2004).  In their study, different aged participants rate adverts and both their recall for and persuasion by particular methods was assessed.  In adult consumers, it was found that cute/adorable features increased recall, although they did not increase persuasion.

Furthermore, anthropomorphism is an effective persuasive technique as shown by Nan et al. (2006).  Participants were exposed to persuasive messages on a website regarding a brand of water in the presence or absence of an anthropomorphic agent.  They found that the presence of an agent resulted in positive emotional responses towards the website and hence positive attitudes, thus suggesting people may be more likely to buy a product from the website.  Another study utilising anthropomorphic characters involved a systematic review of research on their use in children’s diet related cognitive, behavioural and health outcomes (Kraak, & Story, 2014).  It was found that the use of cartoon characters increased children’s fruit or vegetable intake, hence suggesting anthropomorphism is an effective way to induce behaviour change.

2. Humour
The meerkat adverts involve substantial humorous events, which as with the use of attractiveness, results in the use of the peripheral route to persuasion.  In a literature review, Weinberger and Gulas (1992) conclude that humour enhanced liking, which in turn may facilitate persuasion.  Furthermore, in a field study, Scott, Klein and Bryant (1990) promoted business and social events using humorous, non-humorous and control formats.  It was found that humorous promotions increased attendance at social events.

3. Celebrity involvement


Figure 2

In some video advertisements, comparethemarket included Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nicole Kidman.  This use of a celebrity endorsement is yet another effective persuasive technique utilised by the company.  In one study, participants were presented with a fictitious advertisement for Edge razors which featured either a celebrity or an average citizen endorser (Petty, Cacioppo & Schumann, 1983).  Participants were either in a high
involvement condition in which they were told they could choose a brand or a low involvement condition where they could choose a toothpaste brand.  Argument quality was also manipulated to be weak or strong.  The participants than had to rate the likelihood of them purchasing the Edge razors, their overall impression of the product and list their thoughts when they were examining the Edge advert.  As can be seen in figure 3, participants preferred the products more when they were endorsed by a celebrity, thus suggesting they may be more likely to buy the product. 
Figure 3 - Attitude scores in response to celebrity and
non-celebrity endorses (Petty et al., 1983)

4. Limited edition toys
Figure 4 - Worchel et al. (1975)
Comparethemarket have now introduced the concept of limited edition toys, hence drawing on the principle of scarcity to persuade viewers to buy insurance from their website.  In his book, Cialdini (2009) discusses two types of scarcity: Limited-time and limited-quantity.  This advert utilises limited-quantity scarcity which has been shown to be more effective than limited-time scarcity (e.g. Aggarwal, Jun & Huh, 2013).  Scarcity has been shown to be effective in a study conducted by Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975).  Participants were given chocolate cookies and asked to rate their quality.  For half the participants the jar contained ten cookies and for the other half the jar only contained two.  In another version of the experiment, some participants were first shown a jar of ten cookies which was then reduced to two cookies, whereas others only ever saw two cookies.  It was found that when a jar contained two cookies, the cookie was judged as more desirable to eat.  In addition, the reduction from ten to two cookies resulted in a more positive reaction to the cookies.   Therefore, knowing that something is in limited supply will enhance favourable attitudes towards it. 

Above we have seen that the compare the meerkat ‘technique’ has proved extremely successful for comparethemarket due to a variety of methods ranging from attractiveness through to scarcity.  When considering the advertisements from a psychological point of view it is therefore not surprising that profits have rocketed. 


Aggarwal, P., Jun, S. Y., & Huh, J. H. (2011). Scarcity messages. Journal of Advertising, 40, 19-30.

Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and Practice (5th Ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.

Kraak, V. I., & Story, M. (2014). Influence of food companies’ brand mascots and entertainment companies’ cartoon media characters on children’s diet and health: a systematic review and research needs. Obesity Reviews, 16, 107-126.

Nan, X., Anghelcev, G., Myers, J. R., Sar, S., & Faber, R. (2006). What if a web site can talk? Exploring the persuasive effects of web-based anthropomorphic agents. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 83, 615-631.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1979). Issue involvement can increase or decrease persuasion by enhancing message-relevant cognitive responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1915-1926.

Petty, R. E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Schumann, D. (1983). Central and peripheral routes to advertising effectiveness: the moderating role of involvement. Journal of Consumer Research, 10, 135-146.

Phillips, D. M., & Stanton, J. L. (2004). Age-related differences in advertising: recall and persuasion. Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, 13, 7-20.

Rhodes, G. (2006). The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 199-226.

Sandip, S. P., & Bhagyashree, S. H. (2016). Effectiveness of advertisements: a study on comparative analysis of celebrity-endorsed advertisements versus animated-character-endorsed advertisements for children. Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, 8, 308-321.

Scott, C., Klein, D. M., & Bryant, J. (1990). Consumer response to humor in advertising: a series of field studies using behavioural observation. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 498-501.

Snyder, M., & Rothbart, M. (1971). Communicator attractiveness and opinion change. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 3, 377-387.

Sweney, M. (2010, January 16). How meerkat Aleksandr Orlov helped increase the market for TV ads. Retrieved on 2nd November 2016 from

Weinberger, M. G., & Gulas, C. S. (1992). The impact of humor in advertising: a review. Journal of Advertising, 21, 35-59.

Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975). Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 906-914. 

Charlotte Cartwright

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