In 2015 Annual Conference, 2015 Conference - Updates, Professional Development

By Kristen Wimer (Tampa Bay Chapter)

FPRA15_0535Annie Neimand, a sociology instructor at the University of Florida, shed new light on typical public relations concepts of reaching audiences by asking three big questions during her presentation titled: “Giant Babies, Elephants and Popcorn: The Science Behind Effective Communications.”



These questions, posed to address social issues, are:

  1. Why do we avoid information that’s in our best interest?
  2. Why do we actively avoid hearing or seeing information that challenges our sense of self?
  3. How can our surroundings shape our response to calls to action?

Neimand believes these basic human questions can be answered with science. Further, by utilizing the latest research on human behavior and strategic ways to communicate, public relations programs can be more effective and communicators can better perform their jobs.

Using collective research from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication’s Frank — an annual gathering of people who use strategic communications to drive change — Neimand identified key concepts communicators should recognize when creating strategies.

These studies, found on UF’s Frankology website, demonstrate that people avoid information simply because they want to perform a certain behavior, regardless of the consequences. For example, someone who wants to eat a donut may ignore the dietary effects (i.e. high sugar intake, large caloric value, etc.) because donuts are delicious, and they just want to eat a donut.

People also don’t want to feel bad or anxious. Continuing with the donut reference, Neimand said no one wants to feel guilty about eating a donut, so they might continue to avoid the negative information that is associated with eating a donut.

People also avoid information that challenges their sense of self. If someone believes donuts are healthy, they won’t want to hear the reasons why donuts are actually bad for your health.

By considering these key concepts, public relations professionals can tailor messaging and strategies to reach audiences by remembering that people are big babies; by remembering both the elephant and the rider of the elephant; and by giving people smaller bags of popcorn.

Remembering that people are big babies.

Based on the concept that people avoid information that prevents them from a behavior, Neimand suggests communicators create campaigns that make people feel like they’re in control, affirm their identities and in which they can see themselves. This can be achieved by including cultural norms and values associated with the target market. Additionally, communicators should ensure campaigns offer a non-stereotypical angle.

Remembering both the elephant and the rider of the elephant.

Neimand emphasized the need to recognize both the elephant and the rider of the elephant — a well-known reference to and psychological metaphor for the emotional and analytical sides of the brain. Communicators should speak to the target market’s head and heart by creating messages that don’t contradict identity or the way the target market perceives themselves; by identifying a spokesperson who will speak to the target market on an equal level using the same language; and by creating key messages that resonate with the target market’s identity.

Give people a smaller bag of popcorn.

Based on a study of moviegoers who were provided large or medium-sized bags of popcorn, which resulted in a 45% increase in popcorn consumption for those who were given large bags of popcorn, Neimand suggests framing the message and strategy for a target market that helps them make a choice they wouldn’t make on their own. In other words, by changing the situation and providing a smaller bag of popcorn, the moviegoers did not have the choice to eat more popcorn, as their counterparts did.

In conclusion, by utilizing social research and these key concepts, communicators can create evidence-based strategies that help programs, organizations and campaigns work smarter, faster and more effectively.



Annie Neimand
Research Director/Instructor at University of Florida

Annie Neimand is a sociology instructor at the University of Florida, a doctoral candidate, and the research director for the growing frank community of public interest communicators housed in UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. Through her award winning dissertation research and her work with frank, Neimand works to provide evidence-based insight on the effective use of strategic communications to drive social change.

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