How Theories of Persuasion Apply to Marketing and Advertising

L. J. Shrum, Min Liu, Mark Nespoli, and Tina M. Lowrey

Persuasion runs indelibly through all aspects of our lives. Some instances are subtle (e.g.,
effects of entertainment media), others can be in-your-face annoying (e.g., political
communications). If asked, and given sufficient time, most people can come up with a long list
of everyday persuasion attempts and practices. However, we suspect that at the top of pretty
much everyone’s list would be advertising. Whether it is the result of constant exposure to ads,
their often entertaining nature, or simply because of our (American) hyperconsumer culture,
there are few things that more quintessentially capture the notion of persuasion than advertising.
We love the ads (at least, we watch a lot of them), we hate them (at least, we often devise
elaborate schemes to avoid watching them), and we may even fear them (mind control). In fact,
the early fears about the persuasive power of propaganda on citizens in the 1930s and 1940s soon
morphed into worries about the persuasive power of advertising, particularly the worry about
subliminal persuasion through advertising (cf. Bargh, 2002; Brannon & Brock, 1994; Packard,

Given advertising’s prominence in the domain of persuasion, it is not surprising that theories
of persuasion have played a central role in scholarly research on effects of advertising (and
marketing communications more generally). In this chapter, we provide a review of scholarly
work on persuasion in the marketplace. However, we hasten to admit that a thorough coverage of
all of the applicable persuasion theories and their tests is beyond the scope of this chapter. There
are numerous theories of persuasion that have implications for advertising and marketing, many
of which are covered in this volume. Rather, we have chosen to highlight the persuasion theories
that have been most influential in advertising, marketing, and consumer behavior research over
the last 30 years. Some of these theories will be familiar to communication researchers (e.g.,
theory of reasoned action; elaboration likelihood model), others less so (e.g., persuasion
knowledge model). We provide a brief presentation and discussion of each theory, and then
review the research that applied these theories to marketing questions. Finally, in the last section,
we discuss some new directions in consumer research that pertain to concepts related to
persuasion (e.g., preference construction and choice, perceptions, liking).


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