What makes advertising persuasive?
This assignment will establish a comprehensive understanding of persuasive advertising. Through critical analysis and appropriate theory, such as Classical Conditioning, Association Theory, and soft-sell advertising, it will highlight the importance of understanding the target audience and consider the moral and ethical implications of persuasive advertising, using examples to support this argument. Understanding the effect of advertising on its audience, whether that be positive or negative is the crucial point of persuasion theory. Advertising can be defined by Hardy et al (2018) as the practice that involves efforts to persuade consumers to adopt certain ideas or purchase certain goods or services in a competitive environment. The word advertising comes from the Latin root ‘advertere', which translates to ‘to turn towards' (Percy and Elliott, 2016).
The Association Principle is a persuasive tool used in advertising to persuade consumers to purchase products or services through aiming to attach an image, slogan, sound effect or value to a product and to distinguish it from their competitors in the mind of the consumer (Jones, J. P, 1998). The technique involves fusing a brand with a desirable quality such as attractiveness, wealth, success, family, patriotism, security, happiness, youthfulness, health, adventure, independence, love, romance or sex. Examples of association in advertising aim to resonate an emotional response that will hopefully be persuasive enough to lead to a purchase (O'Shaughnessy & O'Shaughnessy, 2004a).
Calvin Klein is an example of a brand who uses the association theory to appeal to their target audience. The use of celebrity endorsement throughout their adverts allows consumers to attach a person with the brand. In 2016, Calvin Klein used Justin Bieber in their ‘#mycalvins' campaign which appealed to their target audience of young adults between the ages of 15 to 30 (Mintel, 2018). The sex appeal displayed through the advertisement works in persuading consumers to purchase from the brand by associating the black and white images to romance, sex, and admiration. Calvin Klein aims to bridge the gap between the actual and ideal self, appealing to their consumer's unconscious, deeper desires (O'Shaughnessy, 2004b). To some this is a taboo subject; a campaign for the Calvin Klein perfume Obsession displayed a naked couple in a suggestive pose, and an advertisement for the perfume XS, by Paco Rabane, showed an explicit display of a sexual act (Manceau, D. and Tissier-Desbordes, E., 2006). However, according to Lasch (1978) and Mander (1977), when consumers view an idealized model in an advertisement, they consciously or unconsciously compare themselves or their lives to the admirable image. This persuasion technique allows consumers to attach the thought of idealisation and admiration to the brand Calvin Klein, which encourages the consumer to make a purchase. Solomon et al, 2010, states that ‘by acquiring the product, the person is able to vicariously experience the forbidden fruit' (Solomon et al 2010: p188).
Psychoanalysis: Classical Conditioning
The purpose of advertising is to persuade someone to buy something they haven't purchased before. Built upon E. St. Elmo Lewis' marketing communication tool (1898), the AIDA Model is a representation of the process in which brands aim to captivate their target audience. The process begins with gaining the consumer's attention through advertisements and creating an interest in their product or service. The consumer will then ideally have a desire to purchase the product or service which is demonstrated through action. Kotler, P. 2003 states that the concept assumes that the buyer ‘passes through a cognitive, affective and behavioural stage', which in other words presumes that consumers move through different states of mind in relation to buying a product (Young, L. 2011). Behaviourism can be defined as the behaviour caused by external environmental factors that condition an individual to respond in a certain way (O'Shaughnessy & O'Shaughnessy, 2004c). There are several forms of behaviourism, including Pavlovian and operant conditioning. Pavlovian conditioning emphases the importance of repetition in advertising, or exposure to a stimulus. It is an explanation of stimulus to response, with the stimulus being the cause and the response the effect (Armstrong, 2010).
An example of classical conditioning in advertising is Coco Cola who take advantage of the advanced sound systems in cinemas to advertise their product and captivate their target audience in a way of encouraging them to leave the screen and purchase Coco-Cola. The advertisement shows a close-up of the can opening and the distinct sound of the drink fizzing. This noise generates a conditioned response of thirst from the consumer which persuades them to go and purchase Coco Cola as a way of satisfying their need. The advert promotes a feeling of refreshment and pleasure when consuming Coco Cola and reflects the process of classical conditioning from stimulus to response.
Furthermore, a third technique used to persuade consumers is soft-sell advertising. Soft sell advertising is subtle and indirect, instead of emphasising rational benefits of the product or service like hard-sell advertising, it aims to influence the consumer's purchase decisions by evoking an emotional response (Advertising Age, 2003a). Soft-sell advertising argues that the positive associations' people have with products are received from humorous, engaging advertisements which captivate the target audience creating a strong, positive attachment between the consumer and the product or service (Hardy et al, 2018). A recent example of this is the Three Mobile advert which features a young girl on a bike singing along to ‘We Built This City' by Starship with her cat. The British mobile networks fun-loving slogan is ‘We all need silly stuff' which a lot of people can relate to. The humorous advert is relaxed and not only enjoyable to watch but this soft-sell advertising technique can be extremely persuasive in this postmodern world in which we try to take things less seriously. Instead of a bombardment of facts and influential slogans, soft sell advertising attempts to evoke an encouraging emotional response that the audience will attach with the advertised brand (Advertising Age 2003b).
According to Madden and Weinberger (1982), convergent evidence indicates that adverts which contain humour are more attention-grabbing than non-humorous advertisements and thus Three Mobile's Sing It Kitty advert in 2014 was successful in gaining the attention from the British public's cat lovers. However, there is also evidence to suggest that humour can harm the memory of products or services, indicating that humour distracts attention from products (Gelb & Zinkhan, 1986, Krishnan & Chakravarti, 2003). Additionally, marketing studies indicate that humour has little or no effect on behavioural persuasion, purchase intentions or brand choice (Chattopadhyay & Basu, 1990), it merely increases brand awareness and not so much sales.
On the other hand, people are more likely to remember something that they enjoyed watching or smiled at, rather than an abundant amount of facts or important information. Humour in advertising is, therefore, an effective persuasion theory which encourages the target audience to investigate the brand.
Can it be too effective?
Advertising can reach large audiences with simple messages; as stated by Fill, C. 2011,
"these messages are intended to enable individuals to comprehend what an offering is, appreciate what its primary benefit is and how it might be of value to an individual", however, in certain circumstances these messages can be too effective in reaching their desired target audience. Brands need to consider the moral and ethical implications when advertising and are forbidden to mention taboo subjects which are listed as "suicide, murder, death, abortion, hard-drug ingestion, nudity, sadomasochistic practices, gay sex, rape, zoophilia, pedophilia, sex with more than one partner, masturbation, transvestitism, parody of religious symbols, and physical abuse of women" (Sabri, O. and Obermiller, C., 2012).
Brands which use controversial topics or taboo subjects within their adverts could cause a negative response which thus could damage the brand's reputation and increase brand awareness in a negative way. Using humour in advertising can be very effective for low involvement products, however, high involvement products for example motors, could produce moral and ethical issues surrounding safety and reliability.
The Advertising Standards Authority (2017) states that KFC ‘The Whole Chicken' was the most unethical advert which received over 750 complaints in 2017. The humorous advert, which featured a chicken dancing to a rap soundtrack, received complaints about the video being distressing for vegetarians, vegans, and children and that it depicted a chicken who was heading for slaughter (Advertising Standard Authority, 2017a). Despite this, the company ruled it was unlikely that the advertisement would cause distress or serious widespread offence. Nevertheless, such adverts can be labelled as ethically wrong and therefore can be too effective, especially when advertising internationally, by negatively increasing brand awareness and reducing the brand's overall reputation.
It is common for advertisers to over-exaggerate when trying to sell a product and it's benefits in a tactful manner, consumers sometimes are influenced psychologically by the pressure of advertising persuasiveness and intentionally decide to purchase the advertised product (Smith et al., 2006). However, McDonald's are an example of a brand which used a morally unethical way to advertise their product and thus triggered a negative response from their audience. The fast food company released a TV advert which featured a young boy talking about the death of his father with his mother. The advertisement was criticised by the public for being distasteful and comparing an emotive theme to a fast food company like McDonald's (Advertising Standards Authority, 2017b). The 255 complaints stated that it may cause distress to those who have experience a death in the family. This unethical advert was removed and McDonald's issued an apology.
In conclusion, what makes advertising persuasive is the theory used behind the concept. Understanding your target audience is crucial when aiming to captivate your audience and encouraging them to make a purchase or invest in the product or service. Persuasive advertising can be effective in both a negative and positive way, however, when considering the moral and ethical implications of your advertising, brands have the potential to be very successful in increasing brand awareness and overall reputation.
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