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.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

What if Santa Forgot?

Every year, there is somewhat of a competition to create the most moving and persuasive Christmas advert on TV. With so many different ads launched by the nation’s biggest high street names there is one in particular that moved me this year.

Santa Forgot Advert
Alzheimer’s Research UK’s (ARUK) “Santa Forgot” advert is by far the most emotional Christmas ad this year, tugging on all our heart strings this holiday season. Their campaign explores the idea of a world where the magic of Christmas has been lost as Santa struggles with the effects of dementia and is no longer able to visit children on Christmas Eve. In just 2 minutes, the advert demonstrates the varied symptoms and social isolation of dementia and raises awareness that the disease can in fact affect anyone – even Santa.

The Message & Behaviour
We follow the inspirational story of a young girl named Freya, who upon learning about Santa’s condition decides to travel to the North Pole to offer her support, as she believes that
“If Santa has a disease, research can find a way to fix it”.
The campaign highlights the importance of research and how even someone as small as Freya can help make a difference in this battle against dementia and bring the magic back this Christmas. ARUK aims to make you really think about the impacts of dementia and encourages you to donate (the targeted behaviour) in Alzheimer’s Research to change the future – to help Santa – to save Christmas.

Using Emotion
The visual nature of the ad evokes emotions and persuades viewers to donate. Hsee and Rottenstreich’s (2004) experiment illustrated how the presentation of an affect provoking image can increase charity donations – participants stated they would donate larger sums of money to save one panda if shown a visual image of the panda than to save 3 pandas when no image was shown.

According to learning theories of persuasion, emotions can be classically conditioned to require less cognitive effort in processing. For most people, the emotions normally associated with Christmas are those of warmth, love and happiness; and those associated with dementia are often coldness, loneliness and hopelessness. When thinking is constrained, emotions serve as associative cues and we use system 1 processing to produce evaluations consistent with their valence (Petty et al., 1993). By pairing Christmas and dementia, viewers experience emotional incongruence when viewing this ad and therefore the message presented is even more persuasive. According to the ELM, the affect heuristic is a key variable biasing a person’s evaluative judgments and influencing attitude change (Slovic, Finucane, Peters & Macgregor, 2002; Petty & Brinol, 2008). Attitudes then go on to guide choice and actions.

Emotions can also affect system 2 thinking - people often think about messages more when they are in a sad state rather than a happy state because sadness signals a problem that needs to be solved (Schwarz, Bless & Bohner, 1991). The viewer’s emotional reaction to the ad can further provide evidence and can be examined as arguments supporting the persuasive message. Therefore, the sadder the advert about Alzheimer’s the more positively you might rate the ad because sadness is the expected reaction from the issue – dementia.

The ad is effective in its persuasive message as it stirs many different emotions - from sadness to hopefulness with the possibility for change. We feel empathetic, touched and moved by the story. Using hope, the ad reminds us to believe in the power of research and that research is the solution. Some Youtube viewer comments illustrating this include:

Subliminal Priming
Strahan, Spencer and Zanna’s (2002) study further suggests that subliminally priming emotions influences behaviour and enhances the persuasiveness of an ad especially when people are motivated to pursue the goal. This was supported by Murphy and Zajonc’s (1993) experiment where participants preferred Chinese ideographs that were preceded by a subliminally presented smiling faces to the same ideographs preceded by a subliminally presented scowling face. This is illustrated in the graph below: Participants that were subliminally primed (for 4ms) in the suboptimal condition preferred ideographs following the positive facial expressions to the negative facial expressions. When these primes were presented at optimal exposure duration there was a slight preference for the ideographs following the negative facial expressions.

ARUK’s Santa Forgot advert was shown on TV, shared on several social media platforms, news articles and even had a trending hash tag #SantaForgot. This constant exposure to the ad emphasizes the message and may increase the perceived impact of the issue (Kiousis, 2004). According to the Agenda Setting Theory, the constant sharing and increased availability can influence the salience of specific topics in the public. The more the advert is shared, the easier it is to bring the message to mind thus making the issue appear more important (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973, McCombs & Shaw, 1972). Furthermore, by being shared by different sources it is even more persuasive. Weaver, Garcia, Schwarz and Miller’s (2007) study explored the influence of message repetition by the same person (mere exposure) and by several different people (social proof). Results showed that hearing the message 3 times was more favourable than just hearing it once, and that hearing the message 3 times from different sources had the highest favourability. As different people share the advert it illustrates social proof where if a large group of people care about dementia, donating is viewed as the correct and desirable behaviour to follow.

Is it possible that a charity donation is not an altruistic act? The social rule of reciprocity suggests that we help others with the expectancy of a return. In this case, it is possible that people are persuaded to invest in Alzheimer’s research because in return they would get back the magic of Christmas. Although it’s not an immediate return we are expecting to get something out of our contribution in the long run and that may motivate people to donate.

Who is Santa?
Santa is someone who brings you presents on Christmas Eve. “Santa” can be anyone - your parents, your relatives or your friends. YOU could even be Santa. So there’s a chance anyone could suffer from dementia. Santa has always been considered an important cultural icon. The ad makes us explore the idea that he too could be affected; driving home the point that dementia can strike those most special in our lives. The campaign does not discriminate and shows how people from many different backgrounds can be affected - nurses, teachers, world leaders and eloquent writers. It doesn’t matter how rich/poor, big/small or how clever you are. The ad simulates a possible future and makes you think about the possible consequences of dementia.

The Outcome
Especially with everyone’s focus on the Christmas holidays at the moment, it is easy for people to just ignore issues like these. The advert brings people’s attention back to the issue and encourages people to do their part in fighting back this holiday.
The outcome?
I’ve donated towards Alzheimer’s research this Christmas - and so has @Mustafa Kulle, @Pat Goode and @Marko Crush to name a few.

Hsee, C. K., & Rottenstreich, Y. (2004). Music, pandas, and muggers: on the affective psychology of value. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 133(1), 23-30.

Petty, R. E., Schumann, D. W., Richman, S. A., & Strathman, A. J. (1993). Positive mood and persuasion: Different roles for affect under high-and low-elaboration conditions. Journal of personality and social psychology, 64(1), 5-20.

Slovic, P., Finucane, M., Peters, E., & MacGregor, D. G. (2002). Rational actors or rational fools: Implications of the affect heuristic for behavioral economics. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 31(4), 329-342.

Petty, R. E., & Brinol, P. (2008). Persuasion: From single to multiple to metacognitive processes. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(2), 137-147.

Schwarz, N., Bless, H., & Bohner, G. (1991). Mood and persuasion: Affective states influence the processing of persuasive communications. Advances in experimental social psychology, 24, 161-199.

Strahan, E. J., Spencer, S. J., & Zanna, M. P. (2002). Subliminal priming and persuasion: Striking while the iron is hot. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38(6), 556-568.
Murphy, S. T., & Zajonc, R. B. (1993). Affect, cognition, and awareness: affective priming with optimal and suboptimal stimulus exposures. Journal of personality and social psychology, 64(5), 723-739.
Kiousis, S. (2004). Explicating media salience: A factor analysis of New York Times issue coverage during the 2000 US presidential election. Journal of Communication, 54(1), 71-87.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology, 5(2), 207-232.

McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public opinion quarterly, 36(2), 176-187.

Weaver, K., Garcia, S. M., Schwarz, N., & Miller, D. T. (2007). Inferring the popularity of an opinion from its familiarity: a repetitive voice can sound like a chorus. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(5), 821-833.

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