Various Techniques of Persuasion

Various Techniques of Persuasion

What are the various techniques of persuasion? Explain with   your own examples.

Various Techniques of Persuasion

Techniques of Persuasion

We now turn to three important techniques commonly used in persuasion: appeals to humor, appeals to sex, and extensive repetition of an advertising message. Audiences and communicators need to understand their applications—and their potential misuse.

Appeals to Humor:

The use of humor is a popular technique in communication. Many public speakers ob­viously believe in the importance of beginning their talks with a humorous story. Studies have suggested that 15 to 20 percent of television commercials contain some element of humor (Kelly & Solomon, 1975; Duncan & Nelson, 1985).

In the typical study of the effects of humor on attitude change or other variables in the hierarchy of effects, different groups are exposed to different versions of the same mes­sage—one with humor and one without. For instance, Brooker (1981) examined the effects of humor in two commercials—one for a toothpaste and one for a flu vaccine. Examples of the humorous appeals used in his study appear in Table 9.7.

When attitude change or persuasion is the dependent variable of interest, most stud­ies have not found a significant effect due to humor (Gruner, 1965, 1967, 1970, 1972; Brooker, 1981).

Other studies of the effectiveness of humor indicate that it has more of an effect on lower-order communication effects (responses lower in the response hierarchy) than on higher-order communication effects (Gelb & Pickett, 1983; Duncan & Nelson, 1985). That is, humor is more effective in attracting attention, generating liking for the communicator, and so forth, than it is in producing attitude change or changes in behavior.

Not all studies agree, however, that humor is even effective in generating liking for the communicator. One study showed that a woman speaker was liked less when she used humor than when she did not (Taylor, 1974). The author suggests that the speaker was perceived as “trying too hard to curry favor?’ Similarly, another study showed that college teachers who use humor are perceived with “suspicion and hostility” because they are acting contrary to student expectations that a teacher’s behavior will be controlling and evaluative (Darling & Civikly, 1984).

The research on the effectiveness of humor that has been conducted so far should be interpreted in light of its limitations, however. One limitation is that the settings of the studies have often been classrooms or laboratories, which might not be representative of the settings where humor is expected. Another limitation is that the research has tended to be nontheoretical, with little discussion of why humor might or might not be effective in achieving various effects. Markiewicz (1974) has suggested that learning theory and dis­traction theory are two promising theories for understanding the relationship of humor to persuasion. A learning theory approach might suggest that humor would provide rein­forcement and thus lead to greater attitude change. A distraction theory approach might





Toothbrush: Vaccine:







Here’s an idea with some “teeth” in it.

Song of the spring camper: “We’re tenting tonight on the old damp ground.”


If your lady friend turns aside her nose Whenever you begin to propose The halitosis demon Might be what sends her screamin’ And your toothbrush could help to solve your woes.

There was an old lady of Crewe Who was horribly frightened of flu. She spoilt her complexion Through fear of infection Having fixed on her gas mask with glue.


Detecting decay in the tooth of a beautiful young woman, the dentist said, “What’s a place like this doing in a girl like you?”

A little boy was found watchinj a movie by the manager in the morning. “Why aren’t you in school?” he asked the boy. “It’s O.K., mister, I’m just getting over the flu.”


Oscar Levant once said, “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

Many flu sufferers have said, “I hope I’m really sick. I’d hate to feel like this if I’m well.”

From G. W. Brooker, “A Comparison of the Persuasive Elects of Mild Humor and Mild Fear Appeals,’ Journal of Advertising 10, no. 4 (1981): 32. Used by permission make the prediction that humor would be distracting. This distraction, in turn, might lead to greater attitude change by preventing counterarguing (Festinger & Maccoby, 1964). Or distraction might lead to less attitude change by interfering with attentiveness to the mes­sage.

It has also been suggested that the use of humor needs to be studied in relation to other variables (Kelly & Solomon, 1975). For instance, in advertising, is the humor more effec­tive when it relates to the topic or when it does not? In a commercial, should the humor come at the beginning, at the end, or all through the commercial?

Appeals to Sex

The use of sexy models and other sexual appeals is a common technique in advertising. One study has indicated that more than one-fourth of magazine ads contain “obviously alluring” female models (Sexton & Haberman, 1974). Furthermore, these kinds of ads are on the increase. The same study showed the ads with “obviously alluring” models in­creased from 10 percent it 1951 to 27 percent in 1971. Many advertisers apparently be- » lieve that “sex sells.” But does it?

At least one study suggests that a sexy model can affect the perception or image of a product, even if there is very little logical connection between the model and the product. Smith and Engel (1968) prepared a print ad for an automobile in two versions. In one version, a female model clad in black lace panties and a simple sleeveless sweater stood in front of the car. She held a spear—on the assumption that the spear might be regarded as a phallic symbol and might lead the model to be seen as more aggressively seductive. In the other version, there was no model. When the car was pictured with the woman, subjects rated it as more appealing, more youthful, more lively, and better designed. Even objective characteristics were affected. When the car appeared with the woman, it was rated as higher in horsepower, less safe, more expensive by $340, and able to move an average 7.3 miles per hour faster. In general, male and female subjects responded the same way other ads.

In contrast to the Smith and Engel study, however, a number of studies investigating the effects of sexy models on brand recall have shown either no effect or less recall with the sexy moder(Chestnur, LaChance, & Lubitz, 1977; Alexander & Judd, 1978). It appears that the sexy models distract the viewers’ attention away from the portion of the ad pre­senting the product or company name.

One study suggests that for certain products, an attractive female might not be as effec­tive in stimulating sales as an attractive male (Caballero & Solomon, 1984). This study changed the displays for a brand of beer and a brand of tissue that appeared at the end of an aisle in a Tom Thumb supermarket. They found that overall, the male models tended to stimulate more beer sales among both male and female customers than either the female stimulus or the control (no model) treatment.

Another study indicates that response to sex in advertising is not a simple variable (Mor­rison & Sherman, 1972). The study had a number of subjects look at ads from magazines and express their reaction to them on rating scales. They then used cluster analysis to look for different patterns of response. For the males, they identified three dimensions of re­sponse as important: (1) the “Tom Jones” dimension, (2) the intellectualizing dimension, and (3) the fetishism dimension. For females, they identified four dimensions: (1) sensualism, (2) love/sexism, (3) romanticism, and (4) fantasism. Not only do different ads empha­size some of these dimensions and not others, but different people respond to some , dimensions favorably while ignoring others completely. The authors also found that, con­trary to their expectation, women were more quick to pick up on suggestiveness in copy than men.

There are also some clear-cut age differences in responses to sex appeals in advertising, with younger people approving of them more than older people (Wise, King, & Merenski, 1974).

Even though sex in advertising is common, it appears that there are some risks in using it. Appeals to sex might be disapproved of by some audience members, might be misperceived or missed by others, and might distracfstill others from the real purpose of the ad. Fev(, if any, studies exist that show a positive effect of sex in advertising on brand recall or product sales. While the Smith and Engel study shows a sexy model having the effect of increasing the favorable evaluation of an automobile in an ad, it did not test for brand recall after seeing the ad. It is possible that the subjects did not recall the name of the kind of automobile any better with the sexy model than without, and this would defeat the purpose of the ad.

Jib Fowles, the author of an article titled “Advertising’s Fifteen Basic Appeals,” draws this conclusion about appeals to the need for sex: “As a rule, though, advertisers have found sex to be a tricky appeal, to be used sparingly. Less controversial and equally fetch­ing are the appeals to our need for affectionate human contact” (1982, p. 278).

Effects of Repetition

Many mass communication messages—particularly advertisements, whether commer­cial or political—are repeated extensively. There are a number of reasons why this might be a good idea. Not all audience members will be watching at the same time, of, in the print media, not all readers will see a single printing of an advertisement. Another advantage of repetition is that it might remind the audience of a source for a message from a high-cred­ibility source, and thus prevent the drop-off in attitude change from a high-credibility source found over time by Hovland and Weiss. Repeating a message might help the learn­ing of attitudes and emotional meanings for words discussed by Staats and Staats, since a repeated association of the two stimuli is part of the process of conditioning. Repetition might help the audience remember the message itself. Zielske (1959) showed that advertis­ing is quickly forgotten if not continuously exposed.

Krugman (1972) has presented the intriguing argument that three exposures might be all that are needed for a television advertisement to have its desired effect. But he adds the important qualification that it might take 23 exposures to get the three that produce the particular responses that are needed. Krugman suggests that the first exposure to an ad is dominated by a cognitive “What is it?” response. The second exposure is dominated by an evaluative “What of it?” response. And the third exposure is a reminder, but also the be­ginning of disengagement. Krugman points out a fundamental difficulty, however, in that people can screen out television ads by stopping at the “What is it?” response without further involvement. Then, on perhaps the 23rd exposure, they might, or might not, move on to the “What of it?” response. Thus, Krugman’s analysis is stating that three exposures to an advertisement might be enough under ideal circumstances, but that it might take a number of repetitions to achieve those three.

Too much repetition can also have some undesirable effects, however. In one study, three groups of subjects were presented with one, three, or five repetitions of a persuasive message (Cacioppo & Petty, 1979). The researchers found that the message repetition led at first to increasing agreement with the advocated position, but that after a certain point it led to decreasing agreement with the advocated position. They found repetition led to decreas­ing, then increasing, counterarguing against the message by the recipient of the message. And they found that any amount of repetition led to increasing topic-irrelevant thinking. This kind of curvilinear relationship between repetition and communication effects was also found in a study of political advertising. Becker and Doolitfle (1975) found that both liking for a candidate and seeking of information about a candidate were highest with a moderate amount of repetition but declined with high repetition.

Another study found that humor ratings declined steadily with repetition of ads (Gelb & Zinkham, 1985). A change in the creative execution of the ad was found to boost the humor ratings back up, though.

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