How to influence behaviour change and buyers with your next advertising campaign: The Belief Shift

Is there a science to shifting your audience's beliefs? Or is it just luck? Account Director, Paul James, is here to answer your questions.

Picture of Paul James

Paul James

When it comes to advertising, it’s all about shifting the belief of your audience…

  • Belief leads to behaviour.
  • Belief creates customers.
  • Belief builds the brands.

But how do you do this? Is there a science to it? Or is it just luck?



An epiphany is a moment of great revelation or realisation. It’s the 'ah-ha!' moment.

Leading people to an epiphany, rather than communicating a marketing claim, is the key to shifting their beliefs.

The audience must come up with the idea themselves, so, the decision to buy or change behaviour is their own.

Two texts, separated by almost 30 years - Inception and The BFG - help to illustrate the power of this concept.

Christopher Nolan's Inception is the story of Dom Cobb, who infiltrates the subconsciouses of targets to extract information through a shared dream world.

The target is Robert Fischer, the son of an ailing energy magnate. Cobb’s supposedly-impossible mission is to convince Fischer to dissolve his father's company. He does this by infiltrating Fischer’s dreams and planting a projection of his dying father telling him to be his own man - "inception".



This type of inception occurs more than once in Roald Dahl's The BFG, which we now know was years ahead of its time.

First, the titular BFG persuades Sophie, our heroine, not to try and escape. As shown in Steven Spielberg's 2016 adaptation, he does this by planting a nightmare in Sophie’s dream:



Secondly, the BFG and Sophie need help from the Queen of England to defeat the bad giants in Giant World. But the BFG doesn’t think the Queen will BELIEVE that giants exist. Thankfully, Sophie has a moment of inspiration:

Sophie: “You say that if we tell the Queen, she would never believe us?”
BFG: “I is certain she wouldn’t.”
Sophie: “But we aren’t going to tell her. We don’t have to tell her. We’ll make her dream it!”



The goal of advertising is to lead the audience to an epiphany that will induce a positive or negative mental conflict, known as Cognitive Dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance is the state of having thoughts, beliefs or attitudes that are inconsistent with your behaviours and choices.

This results in a powerful emotional reaction because, as noted by leading psychologist Robert Cialdini in his book Influence,  humans desire consistency between their beliefs and behaviours.

This leads to one of two reactions to re-align beliefs and behaviours:

  • A) We adjust our behaviour to become consistent with the new belief
  • B) We try to justify and post-rationalise our current behaviour

Let’s look at a well-known example, the 'Good things come to those who wait' campaign by Guinness. This campaign aims to transform a negative belief, “I have to wait for my drink,” into the wait being seen as a reflection of the quality of Guinness.






Creating behaviour change isn’t about targeting lots of beliefs. It’s about identifying the one thing that the audience has to believe to ensure all other objections become irrelevant.

The rule of logic (Modus Ponens) is built around the acceptance of a truth, stated simply as follows:
If A then B.
A, therefore B.

For example, my 4-year-old son loves playing with his tablet in the evenings, but isn’t so good at eating his dinner. So, we tell him...
IF you don’t eat your dinner (A) THEN you won’t get your tablet (B).

As a result...
He doesn’t eat his dinner (A), THEREFORE no tablet (B).

Here’s a great example, which attempts to cause the epiphany that, in Las Vegas, the impossible is possible. It also shows that Las Vegas is about much more than 'The Strip' and bachelor parties.




Developing your belief shift is an art and a science that combine to become to the most powerful creative briefs.

There is a 7-step process. It’s called Belief Mapping [Click here to download the Belief Map Worksheet]

Step 1: Identify the target audience.

Who exactly is the target audience? This questions demands thinking deeper than simple demographics.

Step 2: Identify the target audience’s level of awareness.

Depending on your offering and your target audience, there are various levels of awareness, which determine the behaviours and beliefs you are targeting. These awareness levels are:

  • Most unaware: the audience is unaware they even have a problem
  • Problem aware: the audience believes they have a problem but is not aware of the solutions
  • Solution aware: the audience believes in a certain solution to their problem but is not convinced of your solution
  • Our solution aware: the audience believes your solution is the best/ quickest/ easiest option
  • Most aware: the audience believes your solution is the best / quickest / easiest option and that yours is the best ‘deal’

Step 3: Identify the current behaviour.

What is the behaviour you are trying to change in regards to your target audience?

Step 4: Identify the current belief that drives that behaviour and what life events have led to those beliefs.

Why do they behave (or not) in this way? What is the primary belief that drives this behaviour? What common events have happened in their lives that have led to these belief systems.

Step 5: Identify the desired behaviour.

What do you want the audience to do?

Step 6: Identify the desired belief that will drive this behaviour.

What is the one big thing they need to believe to do this?

Step 7: Identify the epiphany and stories to create the cognitive dissonance - a belief shift.

This is where the magic happens! What story can you tell to lead the audience to the epiphany and the new belief?

If the belief shift is a big leap, there may be a need to guide people through the shift one step at a time. We achieve this by developing a sequence of smaller shifts either over time or by designing a sequential customer journey.



A well-designed and insightful belief map offers everything you need to produce a powerful creative brief. It also gives you an effective evaluation tool to ensure creative concepts will achieve the shift and results you need.

Need some help developing yours? Contact We’ll buy the coffee!

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