Advertising Principles - Evidence-based principles

Denise M Rousseau, an expert on evidence-based management, reviewed Scott Armstrong's Persuasive Advertising.

Book Review: Persuasive Adverting, reviewed by Denise M. Rousseau, Interfaces 42, No 1, 2011, 93-94

Review by Denise M. Rousseau, an expert on evidence-based management.
Armstrong, J. Scott. 2010. Persuasive Adver- tising: Evidence-Based Principles. Palgrave-Macmillan, New York. 386 pp. $57.37.

Persuasive Advertising is a handbook on effective advertising. It is the practical product of J. Scott Armstrong’s uniquely comprehensive investigation of both scientific and corporate advertising research. This book targets all those who create advertise- ments and their constituents, from clients looking to evaluate the competence of advertising firms to the general public whose beliefs and choices ads influ- ence. In short, it is a book for anyone who wants to understand advertising’s quality and impact. In another era, it might have been titled The Compleat Advertiser. In ours, it meets the highest standard to which contemporary knowledge claims are held: its evidence-based conclusions (Armstrong refers to them as “principles”) are based upon systematic reviews of the deep evidence base on advertising. This body of evidence includes its sister disciplines, marketing and psychology, particularly the research on persuasion and social influence. Its title states exactly what the book contains.

The 194 evidence-based Persuasive Advertising prin- ciples draw upon systematic reviews of research rel- evant to specific advertising decisions and problems. A systematic review is the identification, evaluation, and synthesis of all quality research relevant to a specific practice question. Such “studies of studies” are the foundation of evidence-based medicine and are increasingly undertaken in many other profes- sions, including nursing, criminal justice, education, and psychology. Management, particularly manage- ment education, has recently begun to use systematic reviews (Briner et al. 2009, Salipante and Smith 2011). In this context, Persuasive Advertising is a resource whose time has come.

Translating evidence into action is not always easy. Evidence might not readily provide a practical answer. However, acting without knowing the evi- dence perpetuates the underuse of effective practices and the overuse of ineffective ones. Armstrong is aware that it is easy to overgeneralize from research findings. He has taken pains to provide the condi- tions of use that help make principles appropriate and actionable (e.g., information should be organized dif- ferently for audiences with different levels of experi- ence with the advertised product). This feature alone separates Persuasive Advertising from other one-size- fits-all books by media gurus.

A challenge for any evidence-based guide for prac- tice is to be user friendly—more a practical tool than research summary. The book’s user-friendly structure follows what Armstrong terms a persuasion princi- ples map. This map organizes the principles by topics relevant to advertising’s goals, design, and evalua- tion. Each topic in turn is divided into categories relevant to advertising-related decisions. For exam- ple, advertising’s goals are addressed in the strategy category, which presents principles guiding effective use of topics such as information (and its subtopics,benefits, news, product, price, and distribution) and influence (e.g., reasons, social proof, scarcity, attri- bution). Another category, general tactics, addresses design concerns, covering such topics as resistance, message, acceptance, and attention, with each sub- divided by specific types of design features. The range of advertising is as broad as the research litera- ture, including tactics appropriate for still media (e.g., print, photos, Internet) or to motion media (e.g., film, television, Internet).

Armstrong, a Wharton professor, spent the bet- ter part of two decades compiling the evidence on which this book is based. His efforts came to fruition through his recent collaboration with Gerry Lukeman, formerly of IPSOS-ASI, and Sandeep Patnaik, research director at Glossary Link Gallup and Robinson, both acknowledged as key contributors on the title page. This team mobi- lized the efforts of over 80 people who identified rel- evant research, analyzed original data, and contacted researchers to verify the accuracy of its conclusions. It is the first of its kind in marketing and advertising, a well-vetted comprehensive set of actionable principles based on the evidence provided by 3,000 empirical studies and 50 books.

Armstrong organizes the book to make it easy for practitioners to identify how particular tactics are use- ful for different purposes, product types, and media. He and his team reviewed business applications to evaluate where and how the book’s principles apply. In specifying conditions for applying prin- ciples, Armstrong emphasizes the basic issues that organizations need to consider: What are the goals for the advertising? How are stakeholders, includ- ing stockholders, suppliers, employees, retailers, cus- tomers, and the local community, likely to be affected by the ad? What are the stakeholders’ ultimate objec- tives? How does the kind of product, such as commer- cial or prosocial, affect its advertising effectiveness? What is the target market? The fundamental focus in this treatment of advertising practice is its impact on long-term organizational objectives.

I highly recommend this book to marketing and advertising professionals, educators, and researchers in these fields, and indeed anyone seeking to under- stand the myriad ways advertising affects our behav- iors and choices. I realize now that I need to change my opening sentence. Persuasive Advertising is the handbook on effective advertising.

Briner, R., D. Denyer, D. M. Rousseau. 2009. Evidence-based man- agement: Concept clean-up time? Acad. Management Perspec- tives 23(4) 19–32.
Salipante, P., A. K. Smith. 2011. Toward doctoral education that encourages evidence-based management: Issues and prospects for problem-focused research. D. M. Rousseau, ed. Hand- book of Evidence-Based Management. Oxford University Press, New York. Forthcoming.
Denise M. Rousseau Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,


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