Advertising: Step by step – or all at once?
In a previous post, I discussed McGuire’s Persuasion Matrix as a way of looking at how persuasion works. The model consists of 12 steps that consumers complete to be persuaded and is more extensive than easier models often taught (such as AIDA = Awareness – Interest – Desire – Action/Think – Feel – Do etc.).
While the argument that consumers follow a series of steps to be persuaded is easy to understand, intuitive and logical, over the the last few years, both practitioners as well as fringes of the advertising research community seem to challenge this assumption. Vakratsas & Ambler (1999) looked at the various models used to explain advertising effectiveness in the literature. They identified 7 models, of which 6 are based on a hierarchy of effects.
Firstly, Market Response Models relate advertising (or other marketing measures) directly to purchase behaviours. I.e. the assumption is “exposure=effect”. Vakratsas & Ambler give the example of measuring loyalty directly by looking at repeat purchases – and therefore not taking into account different cognitive and mental effects.
The second set of theories are sumarised as Cognitive Information Models, assuming a (mostly strict) rational consumer behaviour, where the role of advertising is mainly to inform consumers of product attributes, which are then processed rationally and acted upon.
Pure Affect Models assume the opposite of cognitive theories: they emphasise a largely affective (liking, feeling, emotional) response to advertising messages leading to purchase behaviour. I.e. having a positive affective response (e.g liking the spokesperson) to an advertisement leads directly to a purchase. This can include familiarity of a product being established via advertising, leading to purchasing.
Persuasive Hierarchy Models are probably the most widely used models of persuasion – with McGuire’s model – or indeed the Elaboration Likelihood Model falling under this category. The basic assumption is that cognition is followed by affect which results in behaviour, rational deliberations result in attitude development that results in purchase.
Challenging the active form of cognition assumed in the Persuasive Hierarchy Models are Low-Involvement Hierarchy Models, which assume that (a low level of) cognition, i.e. merely being aware of – rather than actively deliberating about a brand, leads to an experience followed by affect and attitude formation. For example, Ehrenberg’s “Awareness-Trial-Reinforcement” model would be a typical example of such a model, addressing the processing of information particularly in low involvement situations. The important point is that these models assume that attitudes towards the products are created after product trial – while in the previous category, (positive) attitudes lead to product trial – and are therefore assumed to be formed prior to a purchase.
The last hierarchy based category combines Integrative Models, i.e. models that assume some hierarchical and sequential occurrence of cognitive, affective and experiential processes – but which argue that the sequence is based on the context in which they occur. For example, the FCB grid (Vaughn, 1980) would be a typical example of assuming product-category involvement to influence the sequence of processes.
The final category is probably the smallest in terms of research endeavors, but offers the most eclectic view of how advertising works. Hierarchy-Free Models don’t assume that any hierarchy of effects: Advertising is not seen as directly persuasive, decision making is not rational and advertising is seen as simply contributing to a “brand totality”. Taking a post-positivist/postmodern view, researchers in this category reject the idea of trying to measure advertising as a direct influence factor, focusing more on in-depth analysis of advertising, using, for example, feminist theory, semiotics or anthropological approaches to explain advertising (and its effect). While from a strictly rational perspective, such attempts may be seen as not practically helpful (e.g not providing practitioners with a way of measuring effectiveness), it is interesting that most practitioners support the view of advertising effectiveness as hierarchy-free when asked about their own theories (Nyilasy & Reid, 2009). Moreover, neuroscience appears to suggest that the brain itself is not processing information hierarchically – but rather interconnectedly and thus hierarchy-free. On the other hand, one could argue that the practitioners’ view of advertising itself may be contributing to the largely elusive effectiveness of advertising (Lodish et al, 1995, Sethuraman et al, 2011 etc). Of course, proponents of the hierarchy-free models would counter-argue that these measurements themselves are flawed.
What do you think? Can we measure advertising effectiveness? Are effects largely hierarchical (and sequential)? Or eclectic and concurrent?