Theories of Persuasion was one of the first classes I remember taking that I could immediately use in the real world. The course taught me about the different tactics individuals and organizations use to promote a message to a specific target audience. I took the class in the summer. Little did I know, the timing would make the class even more useful and applicable.
What a great coincidence that my project for my summer job was to persuade students to change their behavior. At the time, I was working for Chapman’s Student Engagement Department managing the gym and student union facilities. Part of my job consisted of communicating with student engagement faculty as well as students who worked in the facilities. One big problem we were having was that students were leaving their sweaty towels in the gym. The problem became so significant that my project for the summer was to help create a messaging campaign that would change student’s “littering” behaviors.
Each time I went to class I’d learn about how to create messages that evoked different emotions in people depending on the person and the topic. It became strikingly clear to me that I could use what I was learning in this class to help me create a message that would resonate with students.
On the first day of my project, I pulled out my notebook and reviewed the different theories and emotional appeals I had learned. After reading through different persuasive options, I felt that the humor appeal was perfect for the behavior I was trying to change. The class taught me to consider the topic and my target audience when choosing an appeal. I was trying to get 18 to 23 year old college students to throw away their trash. To be honest, it wasn’t the most exciting issue. At first, I thought this was a huge disadvantage for my message. However, the more I thought about it, I realized that using the humor appeal was perfect for the problem I was trying to fix.
Humor Appeal is the use of humor with the purpose of trying to gain the audience’s attention and also to have the message be viewed as more likable. A properly executed humor appeal not only makes the message look more interesting but after the humor appeal has been used the overall message is viewed in a more likable opinion by the audience. The reason one would use humor appeal would be to distract the viewer from the negative emotion of feeling that they are being sold or trying to be persuaded. Effective humor can immensely increase your persuasion but does little for your credibility. A humor appeal is mostly used at the start of a message to increase likability.
The “Trash” issue was important enough of a problem where people would pay attention but it wasn’t critical enough to where, if humor was used, people would get offended. I started making slogans for our graphic design team, brainstorming funny artwork for our digital advertising, and within a week’s time we were rolling out our first line of my Throw Away our Trash campaign.
When creating this humor-based campaign I used everything my Theories of Persuasion class taught me. This required me to consider: “how will this resonate with my audience?”, “does my topic fit my tone?”, “will this message in any way poorly represent my organization?”, and most importantly “will this message be effective?” The campaign ran through the first semester and we noticed that our littering problem had significantly decreased.
What I appreciated so much about this class is that, from the minute I learned about the first concept, I knew it would be applicable throughout my whole career. Within two weeks, it had already helped me outside of the classroom. Theories of Persuasion gave me the ability to develop a message behind the scenes and effectively change my audience’s behavior.