Persuasion knowledge: Why it is not always bad…

persuasionI have previously written on Persuasion Knowledge, the theory underpinning how people react to persuasive communication. The obvious “problem” with the theory is that most marketers assume that people will actually react negatively when they realise they are facing a persuasion attempt. But – this is only the half truth, and there are some important points to remember:Persuasion Knowledge makes it clear that the coping mechanisms employed can be both negative or positive. Thus, minimising persuasion knowledge can actually, in some cases, do more harm then good. Why?

Coping mechanisms are likely to be positive when customers feel that the persuasion is in their interest: Take, for example, a customer who wants to show higher social status. If that individual is seeking out brand information, claims such as “elegant”, luxurious or a high price tag are likely to result in positive coping mechanisms. The individual most likely accepts what the marketer says – even if they notice that it is “advertising speak”. Why? Well, Social Exchange Theory suggests that if an individual enters into a relationship (like for example with a brand), then they weigh benefits and risks. In this situation (and in the absence of any further information) the individual is likely to accept the marketers premise – and accept the recognised persuasion, because it helps fostering his/her own goals.

Now take the example of hidden persuasion: From Snickers Tweets to Advergames to too many sponsored and irrelevant updates on social networks: When persuasion knowledge is trying to be kept low, it is at first successful (because the person does not employ coping mechanisms). However… once discovered, the communication is likely to have a boomerang effect: People get angry, probably more angry than if they would have known that they were trying to be persuaded in the first instance.

So while trying to keep persuasion knowledge down seems like a good strategy at first – it is important to remember the potential boomerang effect this can have: And in most cases, someone who feels tricked is pretty unlikely to feel positive about the trickster… mostly at least.