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, March 21, 2018

Why do we love ridiculous irrelevance in advertising?

Advertising comes in many shapes and forms, spanning many platforms and targeting a variety of audiences. We see advertising every day and each and every advert will have differing levels of effectiveness on us depending on who we are, whether we are its target and if we want or like the product. Recently a number of companies have begun advertising campaigns that seem to focus on the ridiculous, making amusement and bizarreness the focus of the advert rather than actual attributes of the product or service. This has been done before many times but it seems that we are moving even further into absurd abstract adverts than ever before.

Our absent mindedness when watching television commercials works in favour of advertisements like this. We are paying little attention to adverts naturally and this allows peripheral processing to take over when analysing the quality of an advert (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979) which allows more influence to come from heuristics and biases (Chaiken & Eagly, 1989) when forming opinions and, following that, behaviours. We will focus more on the mood of the advert, its tone and how it made us feel, rather than the actual message which is being conveyed, as in video formats, communication cues can have a higher influence on persuasiveness than the message itself (Chaiken & Eagly, 1983). As far as meaning goes these adverts have very little, but they have a lot of emotive triggers to give us a good impression.
In the last few years, Cadburys have used these formats in their advertising, producing their famous gorilla advert, which has been rated the UK’s most loved advert of all time (Campaign, 2015), has received numerous advertising awards and has inspired countless imitations and parodies. Current advertising campaigns by Money Supermarket- an insurance comparing service, promote “feeling epic” and “being so money supermarket”, again the advert does not directly relate to the product or service they are trying to promote or sell. Being so “money supermarket” in itself is meaningless, but all the elements of the advert work together to solidly associate the company with happiness, excitement and “epicness”.
Why do companies use these adverts and are they actually effective? 
Their effectiveness can be broken down into their humour, their nostalgia and their vividness. They are loved because we find them funny, interesting and memorable and each of these factors work together to make them engaging and powerful adverts. We find these adverts comical, which makes them more memorable and more likeable (Chung and Zhao, 2003), which makes us more likely to discuss them with others and become viral (Porter & Golan, 2006). When we discuss adverts we do advertisers job for them, furthering their appeal and increasing their reinforcement with others.

We like the familiarity of the songs present in these adverts: “In the air tonight” by Phil Collins and “Finally” by CeCe Peniston, two upbeat, high energy songs by top 10 artists that were popular in their time and have lived on in popular media, making them seem familiar. This familiarity can aid in appeal of the adverts, as we like things that we know better,(Rindfleisch & Inman, 1998) and the more we are exposed to something, the more we like it (Pratkanis, 2011). Generations of children have played with action men, another element of nostalgia to make us feel more positively towards the advert (Sedikides, Wildschut, Arndt & Routledge, 2008).

A powerful tool being used by these campaigns is increasing their salience and vividness- the prominence and noticeability of the advert. Their weirdness is matched by how much it stands out from the crowd and this helps make them more likeable and influential. If something is more vivid it becomes more salient and messages that are more salient are typically more influential when making a judgement (Taylor & Thompson, 1982) and more memorable when considering making a purchase or what company to go for when you need a service.

Advertising campaigns like that of Money Supermarket broadcast frequently and have several different adverts, all presenting the same idea, in this case their “feel epic” campaign. This uses a technique of message repetition to make the idea seem more valid, and the message more truthful, building on the mere exposure effect (Pratkanis, 2011). In this case we could come to believe more and more strongly that we too would feel epic if we bought insurance through money supermarket, it is an effective technique.

Chaiken, S., & Eagly, A. H. (1983). Communication modality as a determinant of persuasion: The role of communicator salience. Journal of personality and social psychology45(2), 241.
Chaiken, S., & Eagly, A. H. (1989). Heuristic and systematic information processing within and. Unintended thought212, 212-252.
Chung, H., & Zhao, X. (2003). Humour effect on memory and attitude: moderating role of product involvement. International Journal Of Advertising, 22(1), 117-144.
Campaign (2015) Cadbury's Gorilla is nation's favourite ad, while industry opts for Guinness' Surfer.
Retrieved March 17 2018 from
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(10), 1915.
Porter, L., & Golan, G. J. (2006). From subservient chickens to brawny men: A comparison of viral advertising to television advertising. Journal of Interactive Advertising6(2), 30-38.
Pratkanis, A. R. (Ed.). (2011). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Psychology Press.
Rindfleisch, A., & Inman, J. (1998). Explaining the familiarity-liking relationship: mere exposure, information availability, or social desirability?. Marketing Letters9(1), 5-19.
Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Arndt, J., & Routledge, C. (2008). Nostalgia: Past, present, and future. Current Directions in Psychological Science17(5), 304-307.
Taylor, S. E., & Thompson, S. C. (1982). Stalking the elusive" vividness" effect. Psychological review89(2), 155.

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