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Reciprocity: Ad-rewrite and paper


Left, inset (Original ad. Vintage Seventies ad for J&B Scotch). Entire ad: Re-write. Reciprocity stems from an inherent need to "pay back" a kindness. This sense of indebtedness often drives consumer behaviors.

pay It Forward: Reciprocation and Obligation in Advertising


Cialdini (2014) states that individuals feel compelled to repay the subject of a positive action or of a favorable act. This sense of obligation stems from an inherent tendency one feels to balance the scales and to respond through an equal or an approximate gesture (Cialdini, 2014; Tiger & Fox, 1997). It is human nature to ponder future repayment of favors, gifts, invitations, and kind acts—an instinct referred to as the “reciprocity rule” (RR) (Cialdini, 2014, 17). Throughout history, societies have operated under the RR through trade, barter, alliances, treaties, and political arrangements (Cialdini, 2014). Furthermore, societal concepts like division of labor, creation of commerce, and organization of social groups stem from what Tiger and Fox (1971) call a “web of indebtedness” that is necessary to human survival (as cited in Cialdini, 2014, 18). A powerful motivation behind the RR stems from an undesirable burden of obligation (Cialdini, 2014). Those who ignore this social quid pro quooften are viewed negatively; thus, individuals who wish to avoid terms like “moocher,” “ingrate,” or “welsher” often seek ways to respond in-kind to maintain social acceptance (Cialdini, 2014, 20). The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the RR in a vintage, 1971 alcohol print advertisement titled “Scotch and the Single Girl” by transforming the original ad into one that incorporates RR-based incentives.

“Uninvited Debts” and Common Goals

Reciprocation becomes a “weapon on influence” when one party triggers a sense of obligation in another to manipulate behaviors (Cialdini, 2014, p. 1). This is evident through uninvited debts—a “giving before you get” process where advertisers prompt a desired response through pre-emptive actions (Ciadini, 2014; Bradford, 2018, p. 9). Examples include free samples (where consumers feel guilty walking away without purchasing), price reductions (where retail price is inflated, then lowered as a sales incentive), and unsolicited gift-giving (where a REALTORÒor a nonprofit mails you a calendar or address labels) (Ciadini, 2014; Bradford, 2018). Ciadini (2014) states also that social groups share an interest in working together towards achieving common goals. Examples of RR-influenced goodwill include chambers of commerce (aligning for mutual benefit) and cross-promotion (uniting for message amplification). Digital marketers invoke the RR by tagging individuals or companies, sharing posts, writing favorable comments, endorsing colleagues, and participating in online referral directories (Mooney, n.d.; Bradford, 2018). In all of these examples, there is an inherent pressure to reciprocate a gift or a gesture—even an unsolicited one (Cialdini 2014).

Alcohol Advertising and Gender Roles

Advertising presents a unique lens to study the continuities and changes in cultural norms throughout history (Torronen & Rolando, 2016). Alcohol advertising is an area in which gendered consumers are constructed through stylized repetition of gestures and of actions—a representation referred to as “performatives” (Torronen & Rolando, 2016, p. 796). In fact, O’Barr (2005) explains that the term “consumer” carries a feminine gender in the English language; subsequently, men were the advertisers (the authoritative voice) and women were the consumers (the passive audience). Historically, alcohol advertisers repeated and reproduced these strict gender roles into narrow social and cultural campaigns (O’Barr, 2005; Torronen & Rolando, 2016). However, these roles began to change with the 1970s feminism movement, as women became authority figures in advertising (O’Barr, 2005).

Scotch and the Single Girl

To illustrate the RR, I chose spirit merchant J&B’s “Scotch and the Single Girl” ad (Appendix A) because I am intrigued by nostalgia and by gender politics. For the re-write (Appendix B), I added a free give-away of a 45” record single. While researching top ten hits of 1971, I spotted the Tom Jones song “She’s a Lady” and combined this song title with the ad headline. This restructure seemed viable because there is an intuitive call-and-answer response when one reads “Scotch and the single girl, ‘cause she’s a lady.” Ciadini (2014) states that merely adding the word “because” often triggers compliance through justification; subsequently, this retooled slogan incorporates an additional psychological suggestion.

In this re-write, the RR ties into the gesture of free music with a two-bottle purchase. This J&B product appeals to upscale consumers through the premium branding of “J&B Rare,” which features elevated ingredients and promises a “distinctive character” (J&B, n.d., p. 1). This upsell parallels another psychological posture that states “you get what you pay for”—a top-tier pitch further reinforced by the lyrics: “she’s got style, she’s got grace, she’s a winner” (Ciadini, 2014, p. 5; Anka, 1970, Side A). Also, there is a numerical theme of “single” and “double” and “one” and “two” that may appeal to consumers. Ciadini (2014) describes a principle called “fixed-action patterns,” describing behaviors that occur in the same fashion and in the same order consistently. The propensity for a person to complete the phrase “single” with “double,” or to think of “two” after “one” could act as a “trigger feature”—one tiny aspect of the totality (Ciadini, 2014, p. 3).

This ad re-write is rooted in the idea that when encountered with the RR, consumers may consent to perform a larger gesture than anticipated to relieve the “psychological burden of debt” (Cialdini, 2014, 35). Thus, a two-bottle purchase does not seem far-fetched with the addition of a free item. Similar to a free sample, this re-write offers a gift to potential customers—innocuously presented as a good intention—which may trigger a sense of obligation and a need to repay the favor (Cialdini, 2014). Often, consumers feel guilty and find it untenable to walk away from an unsolicited but desirable gesture (Cialdini, 2014).

When utilizing celebrity endorsements, advertising executives should ensure alignment between the celebrity, their demographics and their consumer segment targets (Comenos, 2018). Harvard Professor Anita Elberse states that high-profile endorsements can increase sales by four percent (as cited in Comenos, 2018). Additionally, when brands link with celebrities, they often see stocks rise when the announcement is made—due, in part, to positive outcomes of sales and loyalty and of consumer confidence (Olenski, 2016). “She’s a Lady peaked at #4 on the Billboard charts on February 27, 1971 (Billboard, n.d.). Tom Jones was a polarizing figure: men wanted to be him; women wanted to be with him.

Thus, the combination of pop culture and product invites consumers not only to purchase, but to immerse themselves in a brand and in a lifestyle—becoming the protagonist in their worlds (Legorburu & McColl, 2014).

Finally, this re-write layers a “rejection-then-retreat technique” fail-safe (Cialdini, 2014, p. 38). For consumers who are not enticed to buy two bottles, there is a chance they will still buy one bottle based on the lingering effects of goodwill from the initial offer. Ciadini (2014) states that one way to increase the chances of engagement success is to make a larger request in the beginning. It is possible that customers may purchase one bottle with the psychological implication that they are in control of the purchase and are both responsible and pleased with the outcome (Ciadini, 2014).

Shrewd merchants might give a free single with single-bottle purchases, budget-willing, to foster loyalty in yet another unsolicited act of goodwill.


Advertisers who utilize the RR leverage an inherent sense of obligation one feels to balance the scales (Ciadini, 2014). When customers receive a free item, they psychologically craft a sense of indebtedness—an inequity that can be used to stimulate a purchase (Mooney, n.d.). The RR, or in lighter terms, “giftology,” is rooted in two basic concepts: that the more you give, the more you get; and it is uncomfortable to be beholden (Bradford, 2018, p. 6; Ciadini, 2014). The RR enables advertisers to wield a powerful weapon by creating a response-and-request dynamic that, minus the burden of repayment, may have been refused otherwise (Ciadini, 2014). When one combines premium alcohol positioning and gender politics of the 1970s, he or she may leave with one free single, two bottles of scotch, and a proclivity to future purchases because as (Ciadini, 2014) states: those who are pleased with an arrangement are more likely to acquiesce to similar ones in the future. It is like (re)paying it forward—and that is pretty groovy.



Anka, P. (1970). She’s a lady [Recorded by Tom Jones]. [U.S. 45” single]. Chicago, IL: Parrot. [Recorded 1970].

Bradford, J. (2018, July 19). The reciprocity principle: Giving to get. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2018/07/19/the-reciprocity-principle-giving-to-get/#461b1eed2175

Cialdini, R.B. (2006). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.New York, NY: Harper Business.

Comenos, J. (2018, May 21). How to determine if your brand should go with a celebrity endorser or influencer. Retrieved from https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/how-to-determine-if-your-brand-should-go-with-a-celebrity-endorser-or-influencer/

J&B rare. (n.d.). Justerini & Brooks Scotch. Retrieved from https://www.jbscotch.com/en/products/jb-rare/

J&B Whiskey, 70’s print ad. (n.d.). eBluejay. Retrieved from https://www.ebluejay.com/ads/item/6489571

Legorburu, G., & McColl, D. (2014). Storyscaping: Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds.[Kindle version]. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.

Mooney, L. (n.d.). Examples of reciprocation marketing. Retrieved from https://smallbusiness.chron.com/examples-reciprocation-marketing-36281.html

O’Barr, W.M. (2005). A brief history of advertising in America. Advertising & Society Review, 6(3). Retrieved from Project MUSE database.

Olenski, S. (2016, July 20). How brands should use celebrities for endorsements. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveolenski/2016/07/20/how-brands-should-use-celebrities-for-endorsements/#7d258c115593

Tiger, L., & Fox, R. (1971). The Imperial Animal.New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Tom Jones chart history. (n.d.). Billboard. Retrieved from https://www.billboard.com/music/tom-jones/chart-history/adult-contemporary/2

Tom Jones—She’s a lady. (n.d.). Discogs. Retrieved from https://www.discogs.com/Tom-Jones-Shes-A-Lady/release/2197483

Tom Jones—She’s a lady. (n.d.). Song Meanings. Retrieved from https://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3530822107858498272/

Torronen, J., & Rolando, S. (2016, March 16). Women’s changing responsibilities and pleasures as consumers: An analysis of alcohol-related advertisements in Finnish, Italian, and Swedish women’s magazines from the 1960s to the 2000s. [PDF] Journal of Consumer Culture, 17(3), 794-822. DOI: 10.1177/1469540516631151. Retrieved from ProQuest database.

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