Emotional Persuasion in Advertising:
A Hierarchy-of-Processing Model
University of Bath
School of Management
There is a widespread belief that effective advertising works persuasively within an information processing paradigm. High attention is regarded as being of critical importance
in facilitating this process, and emotional content is seen as supporting information processing by raising levels of attention. Recent research, however, suggests that emotional content in advertising can influence brand favourability even when rational content has no effect. This article explores the psychology behind the processing of emotion and attention, and presents a ‘hierarchy-of-processing’ model which shows how advertising can influence brand choice without the need for informational persuasion or high attention. The implications this model has for the development of successful advertising are discussed.
1.The Information Processing Model
It is widely held by both practitioners and academics that advertising works best by
delivering a unique persuasive informational message. Rosser Reeves assertion that
‘Advertising is the art of getting a unique selling proposition into the heads of the most people at the lowest possible cost’ (1961: 121) is mirrored nearly 40 years later by Duncan &
2 Moriarty in Advertising Age who describe advertising as ‘… one-way communication:
creating and sending messages…’ (1999: 44). Jones describes advertising as an activity
which ‘…increases people’s knowledge and changes people’s attitudes’ (1990: 237)and
states that ‘…the selling message must be unmistakable’ (2002: 36). Meyers-Levy &
Malaviya consider ‘…only theories that adopt an information-processing perspective’
, and assert that ‘Regardless of their content and the techniques they employ, most [advertising] messages share a common final goal: persuading target consumers to adopt a particular product, service, or idea’ (1999: 45). Even Petty & Cacioppo (1986), although presenting two routes in their Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), see the low attention Peripheral Route as weak and only effective if tied in to high levels of repetition.