Advertising Principles - Evidence-based principles

Persuasive Advertising was named as one of the finalists for the Berry-American Marketing Association’s 2011 award

Persuasive Advertising, a book for all who commission, design, or evaluate advertisements, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in June 2010.



This book translates knowledge about persuasion into evidence-based principles. Useful kowledge about persuasion has been obtained over the last 100 years from the experience of advertising experts and from empirical studies in advertising and other fields including psychology, consumer behavior, law, mass communication, politics, and propaganda.

The principles in Persuasive Advertising provide understandable and easy-to-access guidance for all types of advertising. Including still media such as print and Internet, and motion media such as TV, streaming video, Internet, and radio. They also apply to other types of persuasive communications such as management reports, speeches, and press releases.

Wharton School Professor J. Scott Armstrong spent over 16 years on this book. In recent years, he was assisted by Gerry Lukeman, Chairman Emeritus of Ipsos-ASI and Sandeep Patnaik, Research Director at Glossary Link Gallup and Robinson. Altogether, more than 80 people contributed to Persuasive Advertising by obtaining relevant studies, analyzing data, editing and reviewing, and surveying researchers to ensure that the book correctly summarizes their findings.

Persuasive Advertising summarizes findings from about 3,000 empirical studies and 50 books. It also presents new findings from previously unpublished studies. .

Along with the AdPrin Audit software on, Persuasive Advertising enables advertisers as well as agencies to quickly and inexpensively identify ways to improve ads – or to determine which of a set of ads will be most effective. For example, it typically requires about an hour for an experienced user to obtain a persuasiveness index for a print ad along with a list of ways to improve the ad.,

By using these principles, advertisers can improve their creativity and effectiveness.

What the experts say

Several prominent names from advertising are getting behind Persuasive Advertising. For example, Linda Kaplan, CEO of the Kaplan Thaler Group, said Persuasive Advertising is a “ground breaking book” and that it is “marketing gold”. Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice, said “Anyone interested in how advertising works would be a fool not to learn what this book teaches.” Endorsers consist of prominent advertisers, marketing professors  and distinguished authors.

Click here to read endorsements.

Examples of Evidence-based Principles

You can read the sections from inside the book on examples of evidence-based principles by clicking here.

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Professor Armstrong with some of the books he relied on.

J. Scott Armstrong (Ph.D. from MIT in 1968) is Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching advertising since 1968. He has been a Visiting Professor in Thailand, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, UK, France, Australia, South Africa, Spain, and Argentina. In 1994, for example, he was the Hakuhodo Advertising’s Visiting Professor in Tokyo. He is the founder and director of, which received the 2004 MERLOT Award for the “Best Internet Site in Business Education” A 1989 study ranked Armstrong among the top 15 marketing professors in the U.S., and in 2000 he received the Society for Marketing Advances Distinguished Scholar Award. He is the most frequently cited professor in the history of the Wharton’s School’s marketing department.

Click here for an interview of the author about Persuasive Advertising (on Fox News).

For more about the author, go to

With collaboration from:

Gerry Lukeman, Chairman Emeritus of Glossary Link Ipsos ASI, began working at what was then known as Audience Studies Inc. (“ASI”) in 1963. Gerry was hired to build an advertising research dimension, and Ipsos ASI is now one of the world’s largest Advertising research companies. He has been listed among Advertising Age’s  “100 leaders of the Research Industry,”  and is Chairman of the Ogilvy Awards Advisory Committee. In 2009, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Advertising Research Foundation.

Dr. Sandeep Patnaik, the Research Director at Gallup and Robinson. Sandeep has been involved with the Persuasive Advertising book since 1998. Since 2006 he has led research efforts to test the advertising principles on the nearly five hundred print ads featured in five editions of Which Ad Pulled Best. His current research interests include understanding emotional and cognitive reactions to advertisements. Sandeep also teaches Marketing in the MBA program of the Graduate School of Management, University of Maryland.

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Some Examples of Principles

The following examples are from Persuasive Advertising.

In Germany, in the early 2000s, approximately 12% of the people participated in organ donations, while in neighboring Austria, nearly 100% did. Why was there a difference?

1.3.4. Make the recommended choice the default choice


“To do nothing is in everyone’s power.” Samuel Johnson, mid-1700s

A default choice is one that will be used if the customer takes no action. People tend to select a default choice. They do not go out of their way to change the current situation. This principle is consistent with the law of inertia (the status quo bias).

Evidence on default choices


In their study on organ donations (mentioned in the lead-in), Johnson and Goldstein (2003) cited a 1993 Gallup survey showing that 85% of those surveyed in the United States approve of organ donations. However, approximately 45,000 people died waiting for organ transplants in the United States in 1995 partly because only 28% of U.S. adults agreed to be organ donors upon their deaths. In other countries, large-scale advertising campaigns have had negligible effects. For example, in the Netherlands nearly all adults received a letter in 1998 asking them to agree to be organ donors upon their death; this failed to change the consent rate. Johnson and Goldstein show that in seven European countries in which people must take action to opt out of the organ-donor program, over 98% of the people were, in effect, consenting organ donors. In four countries in which one must take action to be an organ donor, only 15% agreed to donate. Johnson (2008) discusses additional research on the importance of a default option.

In a natural field experiment, Johnson et al. (1993) reported that when Pennsylvania residents were given an opportunity to save money by rejecting the right to sue on their automobile insurance, 75% of them retained the right to sue. On the other hand, when New Jersey residents were given an option to pay more on their auto insurance policy to gain the right to sue in automobile accidents, only 20% chose the right to sue.

The U.S. National Park service posted signs to reduce the theft of petrified wood: “Your heritage is being vandalized everyday by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.” They then facilitated an experiment on the extent to which the sign reduced theft. Place your bet: ___ no change; ___small reduction; ___ large reduction.

2.2.1. Show that the product is widely used

Their intrinsic worth is not sufficient … most go with the crowd,

and go because they see others go.” Baltasar Gracián, 1637

An early 1900s advertising book illustrated the effect of widespread behavior: “One man stands in the street gazing up at the top of a high building. A crowd collects with each man craning his neck. The power seemed to increase with the size of the crowd”  (Tipper et al. 1921). This was tested many years later by having collaborators stand on a sidewalk in New York City and look up at a sixth-floor window for 60 seconds. The authors observed the behavior of 1,424 passersby. When only one confederate looked up, 4% of the passersby stopped; when five confederates looked up, 15% stopped; and when 15 confederates looked up, 40% stopped (Milgram, Bickman & Berkowitz 1969).

In 1995, Michael Tracey and Fred Wiersema arranged to have some buyers purchase 30,000 copies of their book, The Discipline of Market Leaders, from stores that monitor the New York Times bestseller list. Once on the list, the book continued to sell well, despite mediocre reviews. By 2005, however, used copies of the book had been priced as low at $.01 on Amazon.

Social proof is especially effective when the possession or use of the product is visible to those in one’s peer group. It is also persuasive for credence products—products about which consumers cannot judge efficacy and must take product performance solely on faith. And there is some rationality when doing so for high-involvement utilitarian products. With so many users, surely people would report on problems if the product does not live up to promise.

Advertisers have long used social proof. Consider this ad from the early 1900s claiming wide use among the target market: “The Quaker Oats Company canvassed hundreds of homes … and here is what they found … Among the homes of the ignorant in our largest cities, not one home in twelve serves oats … In the homes of the educated, the prosperous, the competent, seven out of eight regularly serve oatmeal.”

Some advertisers inadvertently make it seem like their product is not widely accepted. Consider the following print ad for a computer company that appeared in the 1980s in the Wall Street Journal: “Contrary to what you’ve heard, Digital is open for business.” If consumers believed that Digital was going out of business, it would make sense to avoid doing business with them. (Digital Equipment ceased to exist as of 1998.) Similarly, companies should exercise caution when it comes to advertising their success in solving complaints about their products because this implies that complaints are common.

Evidence on the effects of telling customers that a product is widely used


Let’s go back to the lead-in question. The message about petrified wood could be taken as showing that theft is common– so visitors might think “Let’s get ours now before it is all gone.” This is the prediction from social proof. A field experiment was conducted to test the effect of using the sign. Marked pieces of petrified wood were left in specific locations. When the park service sign was in place, the theft rate was 7.9%; when the sign was eliminated, the theft rate dropped to 2.9% (Cialdini et al. 2003).

The following lab experiments also support this commonly used principle on following the crowd:

Charity donations were higher when potential donors believed that many other people had already contributed. Five related experiments were conducted. In all, there were 630 subjects. Subjects were asked if they would make donations to a specific charity (the Heart Association in four of the experiments, and blood donations in one). Those subjects who were shown a list of donors gave more money (or blood) than the control groups. When subjects were also shown how much the previous donors had given, they donated more—provided that the previous-donor amounts seemed reasonable to the target market (students in three studies and residents of a middle-class residential areas in two studies). They also donated more when the list of donors was longer (e.g., 12 names rather than 4). Under ideal conditions, this use of social proof increased donations by a factor of four (Reingen 1982).


3.1.1 Do not mix rational and emotional appeals

While many advertising experts have suggested that an emotional component would strengthen almost any ad, the evidence suggests the opposite.

Rational and emotional appeals can interfere with each other. If you build a mood, don’t spoil it with a rational argument. Imagine that you and your sweetheart are watching a glorious sunset. Now consider how the mood would change if you explained the combination of atmospheric conditions and dust that produced the sunset.

Conversely, if you have good arguments, do not distract people with emotion.

A key issue involves which emotion to emphasize. That depends on consumer knowledge about the product. Scott (1912) offered general advice when he said that advertisers should gradually build upon the target market’s previous experiences: “Nothing is regarded worthy of our consideration which does not relate itself to our previous experience.”

Evidence on the effects of mixing rational and emotional appeals


In an experiment involving donations to “Save the Children,” a narrative description of a victim’s plight led to higher donations than when the description also included statistics about how the donations would help. Apparently, the latter information damped the emotional effect and led people to think about how their efforts would help; unfortunately, it also led them to determine that their contributions would be negligible (Small, Loewenstein & Slovic 2006).

Print ads that did not mix rational and emotional appeals had better Glossary Link recall. I analyzed 50 pairs of print ads in which one ad had either rational or emotional appeal while  the other ad used both rational and emotional appeals.  Recall for ads that did not mix the appeals was 1.24 times better than the ads that mixed them.

An analysis of 80 automobile ads found that recall for ads using either a rational or emotional appeal yielded better recall than did ads that used both types of appeals (Mehta & Purvis 2006).

Eye-tracking studies of 190 subjects as they watched Dutch TV commercials found that people were overwhelmed when both emotion and information were present, and were more likely to fast-forward through such ads (Elpers, Wedel & Pieters 2003).

TV commercials containing “a balance of rational and emotional appeals”  were lower on comprehension and much below average with respect to persuasion in comparison with the commercials that did not contain such a balance (Stewart & Furse 1986).

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What is the best strategy for a panhandler to use— to ask for “a quarter or loose change” or to ask for either “17 cents” or “37 cents”?

5.1.3. When customers might resist traditional appeals, surprise them with an unusual approach

An Ogilvy ad showed a man with an eye patch wearing Hathaway shirts. Why the eye patch? It might distract customers and reduce counter-arguments such as, “That shirt is too expensive.”

By surprising the customer, an ad might encourage people to think about an offer they would have otherwise ignored. The surprise might also distract customers from thinking about objections.

Instead of a traditional appeal about safety, a Volvo car ad said: “It does 60 to 0 in four seconds flat.”

Evidence on the effects of a surprising approach

Back to the panhandler question: In a field experiment, panhandlers made either typical requests (e.g., for a quarter or loose change) or strange requests (e.g., for 17 cents or 37 cents) of 289 passersby. With the strange request, the total panhandler revenues were 19% higher (Santos et al. 1994).

5.9.2 If resistance is expected, use indirect conclusions when the arguments are strong and obvious

Too much zeal offends when indirection works.”

Euripides, Greek playwright, 480-406 BC

In the U.K., Unilever’s detergent, Surf, was a low-priced detergent that provided good cleansing at a low price; nonetheless, its sales were low. In August 1994, a new Glossary Link campaign featured Pauline and Linda, stars from a popular U.K. television series. In each TV commercial, Pauline would demonstrate that Surf was a smarter choice than Linda’s expensive detergent and Linda would raise questions about that. Follow-up analyses showed that the campaign more than doubled sales from August 1994 to November 1997. This ad was an IPA award winner for effective advertising (Broadbent 2000).

The direct approach may cause people to feel a loss of freedom when the customer is not already favorable to the product, especially for high-involvement products. In his advertising textbook, Poffenberger (1925) said: “The suggestion [in an ad] should be indirect. No one wants to feel that he is under the control of another; everybody clings to the notion that he is a free being.” Stated another way, advertisements should not club a resistant audience over the head with a conclusion.

There are a variety of indirect approaches. One is simply to present the arguments and then let the customer decide what to do. For example, an advertisement by Saab presented performance attributes for a Saab and a BMW. It then invited customers to “compare the value you will get,” followed by “and then you make the decision.”

Another indirect approach is to allow the reader or viewer to observe others arguing each side of an issue. This should reduce counter-arguing, because someone else is doing the counter-arguing. Galileo used this approach in his 1632 book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, in which the Copernican position was argued by “Sagredo” while the other side was argued by “Simplicio” (which angered the Inquisition because of its similarity to “simpleton.”) This can be done in advertising by showing someone who is being persuaded.

The indirect approach is more suitable when the source is regarded as biased and when the message is directed at an intelligent audience.

Evidence on effects of indirect conclusions when resistance is expected

A review of research, including over 40 studies, found that attempts to restrict people’s freedom by providing direct conclusions often led them to reassert their beliefs (Clee & Wicklund 1980).

Other research reviews suggest that indirect conclusions are most persuasive when the communicator is perceived as biased, presumably because customers would otherwise be more likely to counter-argue—and, of course, commercial  advertisers are viewed as biased. Indirect conclusions are also more appropriate when the members of the target market are intelligent because they would be more likely to understand the conclusions on their own, and self-persuasion is convincing (Chebat et al. 2001). Finally, there is little need for direct conclusions when Glossary Link exposure to the campaign will be frequent because the audience reaction might be “Hey, I heard you already!”

In a lab experiment, booklets were shown to 211 subjects. They contained ads with either an open-ended conclusion (e.g., “Now that you know the difference, decide for yourself which disposable razor you should buy”) or a closed-ended conclusion (“Now that you know the difference, shave with Edge, the disposable razor that is best for you).”  Purchase intentions were higher for the open-ended ads. Similar results were obtained with an ad for compact disk players (Ahearne et al. 2000).

In a small-scale lab experiment, 24 Japanese subjects saw online ads for 15 products (e.g., movies). Near the end of each ad, the subjects saw one of two scenes: a life-like agent looking at the viewer or two life-like agents looking at each other and conversing. In each case, the persuader agent used the same words, e.g., “You have to watch this movie; it’s very interesting.” Purchase intentions for the indirect approach—the overheard conversation—were 31% higher (Suzuki & Yamada 2004).

In another lab experiment, in which 261 students viewed cellular phone ads, indirect conclusions were relatively more effective when there were strong arguments for the brand (Martin, Lang & Wong 2003/4).

Print ads for CD players were shown to 192 subjects. The ads contained either explicit or implicit conclusions. Highly involved subjects were more likely to infer omitted conclusions, and when they did, they reported more favorable brand attitudes (Kardes 1988).

In an experimental study of reactions to 16 advertising slogans, subjects were more likely to question direct claims. As a result, they had less confidence in the direct claims than indirect claims (Harris et al. 1989).

5.10.2. Negative innuendos are effective when there is one major competitor and total demand is of little interest


Negative innuendos are less prone to counter-arguing than direct statements, but they can lead to negative associations about the product category, and thus harm overall demand.

The ideal application of negative innuendos is politics, where the concern is market share – that is, the percentage of votes. Unsurprisingly, then, innuendos are often used to challenge competitors in political campaigns. An ad might ask whether it is true that the opponent is an alcoholic. A particularly sly approach is, “I do not believe that Senator Smith has abused his wife.”

Another approach is to raise a hypothetical question such as, “Would you vote for Governor Jones if you learned that he embezzled funds?”


Evidence on the effects of negative innuendos


A lab experiment on newspaper headlines during an election period found that innuendos framed as questions were as persuasive as those framed as statements. In addition, both were persuasive compared with neutral headlines (Wegner et al. 1981).

Lab experiments involving over 600 subjects found that the use of negative hypothetical questions affected voters’ choices of political candidates. Similar findings were obtained for customers’ choices of products (Fitzsimmons & Shiv 2001).

A British Airways advertising campaign invited people to try its business class. Consumers who were not satisfied would receive free coach tickets for another trip. Was that a good idea?


5.11.3. Do not invite customers to evaluate their satisfaction while using a product.

When consumers expect to report about their satisfaction with a product or service, they adopt a critical attitude. They search for things that are wrong. This leads them to have a less enjoyable experience. It also leads to less satisfaction for the producers. Thus, the British Air ad would be expected to harm customer satisfaction and reduce morale of the service providers.

Given the evidence to date, the use of pre-announced satisfaction surveys is detrimental. In addition to harming the satisfaction of sellers and buyers, they discourage the collection of useful diagnostic information.

So why are they used? The primary reason is social proof. Organizations use them because other organizations use them. Furthermore, experience does not enable people to tell whether they help or hurt. Experimental evidence, however, shows that pre-announced or expected satisfaction surveys are harmful.

This principle is widely violated by hotels, automobile dealerships, telephone companies, stock brokers, and other firms that routinely use preannounced satisfaction surveys. Universities have long used them in an attempt to assess student satisfaction; they reduce student and teacher satisfaction, harm learning, and increase administrative costs (Armstrong 2004).

A sensible approach is to ask people to think about positive experiences as they use a product or service, as was done, for example, by the Comfort Suites hotel chain in 2009. In their “be a dazzle detective campaign”  they encourage visitors to report on cases of staff members “doing something right.” Imagine how this would affect the behavior of employees.

Evidence on the effects of preannounced satisfaction surveys


Five field experiments showed that preannounced (or expected) satisfaction surveys harmed satisfaction. Experiments were conducted with a computer company, an electric utility, a supermarket, a drug store, a magazine, and an electronic equipment company. Some customers, randomly assigned, were told that they would be asked later about their satisfaction with the service, while others were not informed about the satisfaction survey. In a follow-up satisfaction survey, those in the pre-announced-survey group were much less satisfied than those who had not expected to receive a satisfaction survey. People in the pre-announced group were looking for reasons to be dissatisfied – and they found them (Ofir &Simonson 2001).

A lab experiment demonstrated that preannounced (or expected) satisfaction surveys harmed satisfaction and reduced useful feedback. A role-playing experiment of a banking service was used to evaluate responses to a negative situation (rude behavior by a bank teller). The subjects in a preannounced survey group gave a substantially poorer rating of service quality than did those who were not told there would be a satisfaction survey. They also reported themselves as being more likely to switch banks. In addition, they were less likely to complain because they had already rated their dissatisfaction on the survey – thus, the bank would not have learned why they were dissatisfied (Lane & Keaveney 2005).

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6.8.1. Use Glossary Link comparative advertising for brands that have clear comparative benefits and a small market share.

Comparative advertising is powerful for products with a low market share – such as a new product  -- and an important Glossary Link comparative advantage that is easy to communicate. This implies that comparative advertising is most effective for high-involvement utilitarian products

In 2007, Apple Inc. had ideal conditions for comparative ads for their computer operating system. They had a small market-share for a Glossary Link utilitarian product with important comparative benefits that were easy to communicate –ease of use, service, reliability, and freedom from viruses. Their advertising involved direct comparisons with Microsoft Windows, which had by far the dominant market share. The comparisons in each commercial were simple and they related to benefits that were important to customers. Apple achieved rapid gains in market share during this campaign. Surprisingly, Microsoft replied with comparative ads directed against Apple despite the fact that they were market leaders and had no important comparative advantages.

Make the comparisons clear and easy. For example, base comparisons on a single dimension, such as the unit price of the product or in “twice the speed.” This helps customers make quick comparisons. This is less important for high-involvement products where people are often willing to mull over difficult comparisons.

To make it easy for customers, compare the brands on attributes that they typically use to make their selections. For example, Apple often advertises that their computers are easier to use than their competitors.

The featured brand should dominate in comparative ads. It should generally be presented early and late, and both visually and verbally –with little attention to the competitor’s brand. There should be no doubt about which brand is being advertised. Here is an example that violated these prescriptions: Pepsi, in a TV commercial, showed a young boy in a poor country putting coins in a dispenser to purchase two Cokes. He then stands on the two Coke cans so he can reach the button for the Pepsi. Once he has purchased the Pepsi, he walks off leaving the two Cokes. This ad, which had no facts, showed the Coca-Cola cans near both the beginning and end of the ad. They were on the screen for over 40% of the time, while Pepsi was shown for less than 20%.

Comparative advertising helps customers because it typically provides more useful information than non-comparative advertising.

Evidence on the effects of comparative advertising and when it works

A Glossary Link meta-analysis found 77 empirical studies on comparative advertising from 1975-1996. (The References section of this book includes five additional studies, all supportive, under Grewal) In general, comparative advertising increased purchase intentions by 22%. Comparative ads had a greater effect on increasing purchase intentions for new and established products than for leading products, based on 55 studies, and it was especially effective in improving the attitude toward new brands (Grewal et al. 1997, Table 2).

A study of consumer durables ads from four magazines found that non-comparative ads provided about 1.7 pieces of information versus 2.2 for implied-comparison ads, and 3.6 for strict-comparison ads (Harmon, Razzouk & Stern 1983). Similar findings were obtained in a study of 949 full-page magazine ads; the non-comparative ads had 1.4 pieces of information on average, versus 2.0 for ads with implied comparisons, and 2.5 for strict-comparison ads (Chou, Franke & Wilcox 1987).

Indirect evidence on the importance of easy comparisons was provided by lab experiments in which subjects were asked to predict which of two students would have better grades in college. When a quantitative feature was common to both alternatives, the subjects gave more weight to it. For example, they used Grade Point Averages (GPAs) in their decisions, even when they had stated earlier that GPAs were unimportant (Slovic & MacPhillamy 1974).

The value of using easy (alignable) comparisons was shown in a review of eight prior studies, and on a lab experiment on ads for popcorn and vacuum cleaners. Easy comparisons provided a more memorable and persuasive approach than did difficult comparisons. Recall of the easy comparisons was especially useful when the subjects saw these ads and ads for competitive products. The advice to use easy comparisons conflicts with conventional wisdom, whereby many firms often advertise unique features for their brands (Lee & Lee 2007).

Lab experiments showed that highly involved people can make rational choices even when presented with difficult comparisons (Zhang & Markman 2001).

Although comparative advertising is beneficial for buyers and sellers, people’s attitudes to such ads does not reflect this. They find them less believable and less likeable (Shimp & Dyer 1978; Swinyard 1981; Wilson & Mederrisoglu 1979).

7.1.1. Use only strong arguments for high-involvement products


When people are presented with arguments, they often average the strength of a set of arguments rather than sum them. Thus, one strong argument is more persuasive than one strong argument plus one weak argument. The following ad would not be advisable: “Luxurious hotel suites. Free coffee provided.”

In contrast, when involvement is low, increasing the number of arguments tends to increase persuasion regardless of the quality of the arguments. Viewers are likely to conclude that a greater number of favorable arguments implies more support.

Evidence on the effects of arguments

One study described six experiments on the effects of arguments and all supported the conclusion that customers make evaluations by averaging the quality of the arguments. It then presented two lab experiments by giving information about types of diapers and infant car seats to expectant parents (thus, high involvement came into play). Judgments were more favorable when these product descriptions avoided weak arguments (Troutman & Shanteau 1976).

Further support was provided in six lab experiments using choices related to pairs of automobiles, cameras, bicycles, and stores. When subjects lacked the ability, opportunity, or motivation to understand the information, they were more likely to be persuaded by ads with many favorable arguments than by those with few favorable arguments (Alba & Marmorstein 1987).

In another lab experiment, students were asked to listen to audio tapes offering arguments on whether students should be required to take a comprehensive exam in order to graduate. Under high involvement (where the exam would affect the students), the addition of weak arguments into an otherwise strong message led to counter-arguing, unfavorable thoughts, and an overall loss in persuasiveness (Friedrich et al. 1996).

9.1.1 Use descriptive headlines for high-involvement products

Headlines should catch the readers’  attention and lead them into the Glossary Link copy. This is especially applicable for utilitarian products (products that solve problems) with strong arguments. While this principle might seem like common sense, many ads do not use it. For example, of the 304 WAPB high-involvement print ads with headlines, only 31% of the headlines were descriptive.

Headlines are also important for Internet pages because people are seeking information about products. Each page should have a different descriptive headline to guide visitors and to inform search engines.

Evidence on effects of descriptive headlines for high-involvement products


Our analysis supports this principle:

Print ads with descriptive headlines had much better recall. We found 24 pairs of print ads for high-involvement products (i.e., where people think carefully before purchasing) in which one ad had descriptive headlines, while the other headline did not describe any product benefits or features. For example, a Bendix fan clutch ad with the headline, “Introducing the only fan clutch with a three-year, 300,000 mile warranty,” had much better recall than a Bendix ad headlined, “Look for the label that delivers durability.” Recall for the descriptive headlined ads was 1.52 times greater than for the other ads.


9.4.7. Use phrase spacing for informative text

Spacing can be used to guide readers. The list format, in which key phrases are placed on separate lines for emphasis, illustrates this well. In addition, by placing spaces between phrases, readers can more effectively absorb meaningful chunks of information. The eye fixations become more rapid when moving from one phrase to the next, and readers are less likely to need to go back to prior phrases.

While the spacing between phrases is larger than the normal inter-word spacing, the physical length of the lines can be held constant by making inter-word spaces smaller. The key is that inter-phrase spacing is larger than the typical inter-word spacing. Spacing should only be added for phrases with three or more words, and the spacing should not compete with punctuation.

For ads of one page or less, it is sufficient to use judgment in deciding where to put the spaces. It doing so, it might also help to read the passages aloud in making these decisions. Some care must be given to the spacing so that it does not distract readers.

Advertisers who prepare long-copy ads, like direct mail brochures, can benefit from using a computer phrase-spacing program, such as Readsmart provided by Language Technologies, Inc. (LTI) in Tucson, Arizona.  The program adds spacing in a way that does not attract attention. And, of course, for long text it is much less expensive to use a program.

Phrase spacing was developed in the 1980s to help people with reading difficulties. However, since then, experiments have shown that proficient readers also benefit.

Evidence on the effects of phrase spacing


A meta-analysis found 13 experimental comparisons on comprehension of phrase spacing versus normal spacing. Phrase spacing increased reading speed by 5% for the 17 experimental comparisons in these studies. Comprehension was better for phrase spacing in all 13 comparisons – on average, by almost 15% (Bever et al. 1990).

In a later lab experiment, university students were shown 12 essays, some with phrase spacing and some without. The high-ability readers (based on verbal SAT scores) in the group improved their number of correct answers by 4% with phrase spacing, while the lower-ability readers improved by about 15% (Jandreau & Bever 1992).

10.4.3. Use short silences before and/or after strong arguments

Keep the silence short, lest the audience drift to other thoughts. How short? About two seconds.

Silence before a key point helps build tension and gain attention for what follows, and silence after a key point allows the audience to think about the message. This conclusion is in accord with responses from 53 creative directors in the United States and Canada (Olsen 1994).

If an advertiser expects resistance to a message that is clearly in the interest of customers (e.g., an anti-smoking message), consider avoiding silence after a strong claim in order to reduce counter-arguments.

Evidence on using short silences before and after strong arguments


In a lab experiment, 409 subjects were presented with five radio ads about cell phones—a relatively new product to U.S. customers at the time. Backgrounds of either silence or music were inserted between information about three features: price, free activation, and voice mail. The normal pause between item (where an item may be one or more words) is .25 seconds. Either silence or music for intervals of zero, one, two, or three seconds was added to the normal pause. Recall was highest when the silence was about two seconds or slightly less. However, when the silence exceeded two seconds, recall was diminished. In a related experiment, 81 subjects were annoyed by a three-second silence; they reported a much higher likelihood of thinking about “things unrelated to the advertisement.”  Distraction was less pronounced for three seconds of music (Olsen 1997).

In an earlier lab experiment using 144 subjects with the same materials as in the preceding paragraph, subjects who heard silence right before the key information recalled 44% of this information, whereas those who just heard music throughout the ad recalled only 15%. Silence had the greatest effect when used to highlight the last item in a series (Olsen 1995).

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Table of Contents








Types of Evidence




The Principles


1. Information
2. Influence
3. Emotion
4. Exposure



General tactics

5. Resistance
6. Acceptance
7. Message
8. Attention



Media-specific tactics

9. Still Media
10. Motion Media
11. Non-experimental data on TV commercials


Evaluating Advertisements





A. Challenges to generalizing from experimental evidence
B. Data on print ads from Glossary Link WAPB (Which Ad Pulled Best)
C. Non-experimental data on TV commercials
D. Prospect theory and persuasion
E. Media allocation methods
F. How to select an advertising agency
G. Management presentations: An evidence-based checklist
H.Written management reports: An evidence-based checklist




Name Index

Subject Index

Forecasting Principles Map






Advertising is fundamentally persuasion. Bill Bernbach 1960


Persuasive Advertising is a guide for all who create or evaluate advertisements— for people in advertising agencies and advertising research companies, for those who hire agencies, and for those in companies that do their own advertising. The basic proposition is that evidence-based advertising principles underlie persuasion. And experimentation is the bedrock of the knowledge about these principles.

To date, much of what is known about advertising has been hidden in obscure academic papers. The objective of this book is to put useful knowledge about persuasion into an understandable and easy-to-access format. Therefore, I use everyday language. For example, customers “think about a product” instead of “engage in cognitive processing of stimuli."

Many of the principles have profound effects, some of which are counterintutive. At points in the book, you will have the opportunity to predict the outcome of some of the studies underlaying the principles. Hopefully you will find much evidence that contradicts your current beliefs. Such evidence will be useful to readers who heed Winston Churchill's warning, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened."


While typical practice and expert opinions are consistent with many of the principles, empirical evidence provides the most valuable support. This book draws upon thousands of research studies that reveal when the principles are most effective and how to apply them.

Understanding evidence-based principles can improve the ability of novices and experts to develop persuasive advertising. It will help advertisers appreciate the challenges that their advertising agencies face as well as contribute to good long-term relationships between sellers and buyers. As you will discover, some commonly accepted practices that appear to be persuasive could be detrimental in the long-term.

Each year advertisers spend enormous sums to market their products and services. Understanding and applying the Persuasive Advertising principles will enable them to accomplish the job of marketing more effectively and at a lower cost.














“Corrections made in the second printing.


Two references had been omitted in the first printing:


Furnham, A., I. Benson & B. Gunter (1987), “Memory for television commercials as a function of the channel of communication," Social Behaviour, 2 (2), 105-112. (P 242)


Russo, J. Edward, Barbara L. Metcalf & Debra Stephens (1981), “Identifying misleading advertising,” Journal of Consumer Research, 8, 119-131. (P 215)”


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Author's Corner

This season's featured author is...

Author of Persuasive Advertising

Check out a Q&A with the author...

Question #1: What is new about your book?

A. It is the only book in advertising that is evidence-based. The principles are based on experimental and non-experimental evidence published over the last 100 years. This led to 195 principles on how to develop persuasive advertising.

Question #2: Where does the evidence come from?

A. Nearly all of the research has been published by academics.

Question #3: How many of the principles are new to advertisers?

A. We examined advertising textbooks and handbooks. None of the principles were found.

Question #4: How can that be? Didn't you say that the principles draw upon the published literature?

A. Have you ever tried to make use of academic papers? In addition, academic papers often fail to describe conditions. Finally, principles generally require a number of experimental studies.

To read the full interview click here.

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