MKT-Theory: Elaboration Likelihood Model and Belvita

belvitaBelvita breakfast cookies announced today that it is shifting from using celebrities in their ads to a more scientific approach.What can we say about such an approach? Why would Kraft (owner of Belvita) do this?

The Elaboration Likelihood Model may provide some insights into the move. The model recognizes two different ways to “persuade” people: The peripheral one relying mostly on simple cues and environmental characteristics¬† to slowly shift or associate attitudes towards a product or brand. On the other side, a central route, relying on “elaboration” – or thinking about a message to aid consumers form (or change) attitudes towards a product/service or brand. Most perfume ads are an example for using peripheral routes: often containing no (obvious) message, and simply relying on the person(s) depicted in the advert and general brand ideas to convey the perfume attributes. Celebrity endorsements are another typical sign of peripheral strategies, i.e. the positive image of the celebrity is hoped to be associated with the brand. Think of social marketing campaigns as often using the central route: logical information and strong/clear messages (for example this NHS Swine Flu advert). Central¬† processing can be preferable in terms of persuasive power (and therefore often used when there is a “good” message and a limited budget). Peripheral processing is less persuasive, attitudes formed are likely to be less strong – and above all require more repetitions to form than elaboration via the central route. N.B. everything here is about processing the message – not about the likely involvement of the product, i.e. low-involvement products can be marketed with peripheral strategies or central strategies – and the same for high-involvement products!

So why would Belvita switch from a fairly peripheral strategy to a relatively central? One could speculate that it is to save money – by reducing the number of repetitions needed for their advertisements to be effective. But more likely is that they have actually figured out that they have a (in their view) reasonable product proposition – and that low-processing, peripheral type advertising strategies are unlikely to create the desired effect. Think about the product: essentially a biscuit. If the advertising strategy is aiming for peripheral clues – and therefore “low attention” processing of the advert, what is the likely outcome going to be? Probably that consumers think it is “an ordinary” biscuit – which is somehow associated to the spokesperson used. This is unlikely to change general product category attitudes (full of sugar, high carbs, not very healthy, a treat,…)¬† – so a peripheral strategy makes not much sense. Think of a central strategy: strong arguments, scientific “support” for demonstrating that Belvita is in a different category than “normal biscuits” (i.e. supposedly releases “slow energy”, a reasonable breakfast replacement, wholegrain etc – even if some people may disagree). These claimed product attributes (and perception/attitude change) require more elaboration than a peripheral route would be able to provide. This, in turn may explain why Belvita is dropping the celebrity endorsement route – and focusing more on the central, “message-heavy” route.

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