Advertising Principles - Evidence-based principles

Evidence on Principles

New Evidence on Principles

2.2.2 Focus on individuals similar to the target market

The Bystander Effect - Complies

3.5.1 How to use fear to persuade: Emphasize bad outcomes, assign blame, and call for actions by others.

Research on mass communications during WWII concluded that mild fear was more persuasive than strong fear. Later research challenged this finding. A Glossary Link meta-analysis of 98 experimental and non-experimental studies confirmed that strong fear is more effective (Witte & Allen 2000).

Sunstein and Zeckhauser (2011) found even stronger support. They concluded that fear is much more likely to be aroused by describing vivid and fearful consequences than by stressing that the harmful event is likely. More

3.6.1 Example of Provocation: Increase diversity bake sale: 2011

Persuasion Principle 3.6.1 says, “Provoke customers only when it attracts attention to a selling point.” Here, I present only an example of an application, not evidence. In September 2011, a bake sale held at the University of California at Berkeley offered cupcakes at various prices depending on the customer’s race and gender. More

7.2.1 Use simple prose for high-involvement products with strong arguments -- and obfuscate for products with weak arguments, but only if the message is delivered by a high-status source.

In a survey of 110 Stanford undergraduates, 86% admitted they made their writing more complex so as to appear to be more intelligent. Two-thirds admitted to using a thesaurus to increase complexity. Is obfuscation a useful persuasive strategy for students? More

7.13.1 Use disclaimers or corrective advertising only if they provide information customers need.

A review of the 18 studies with 25 experiments reinforces the conclusion that market forces (i.e., cautious customers, and firms’ desires to please customers and avoid law suits) are best for consumers in practice. Government mandated disclaimers were expensive and confusing in all experimental comparisons, and in all of the 15 studies (with 22 experimental comparisons) that examined intentions or decisions (Green & Armstrong 2012).

7.13.1 Do mandatory disclosures help consumers?

A review of the evidence on mandated disclosures covered not only advertising but also areas such as Miranda rights, informed consent, and Institutional Review Boards. Such disclosures may not seem contentious as they simply involve providing more information to those who might find it useful. Surprisingly, then, Ben-Shahar and Schneider (2011) were unable to find a single mandatory disclosure for which the benefits outweighed the costs. More


Evidence on principles listed by principle


The following references were used to create, test, and illustrate principles. The articles can be accessed on the Internet by inserting the title of the paper in a Google Advanced Search, while the books can be accessed via Amazon. (Scott Armstrong’s papers can be accessed by clicking on the titles.)

Videos on research studies

This section presents videos that illustrate evidence for the persuasion principles.

Conditions: High vs. low involvement

Marshmallow study for impatience. The marshmallow study has been described as relating to self-control, delayed gratification, or patience. Originally done by Walter Mischel in 1972, it shows that some people are willing to pause and think about an action before plunging ahead. Note that the concept of involvement is related to the type of customer as well as to the product. This and related tests, which have been given to people as young as 4 years, is predictive of how people fare in later life. For example, related tests been shown to be better than IQ as a predictor of how someone will do in school (see Duckworth & Seligman, 2005, “Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents,” Psychological Science, 16, 939-944. There are many demonstrations on YouTube besides the one shown here. For a description, see Deferred Gratification.

2.0 Influence

Here is an overview of the influence principles by the man who identified them, Robert Cialdini.

2.2.1 Show that the product is widely used (social proof)

Asch experiment: In 1955, Solomon Asch asked subjects to participate in a "vision test." In reality, all but one of the participants in this experiment were confederates of the experimenter. The study was really about how the lone subject would react to the confederates' behavior. It demonstrated that a group’s opinions are very powerful in inducing conformity, even though the subjects had no prior acquaintance with the other subjects. There were many extensions of this study, which is regarded as one of the classic studies on social psychology. For an interesting description of this stream of research see Asch’s Conformity Study.

Elevator behavior: This demonstration, from Candid Camera, shows how people conform to the behavior of others.

2.4 Attribution

JohnStossel demostrates experiments on the effects of attribution on behavior. He also describes the famous blue-eye brown-eye demonstration. The effects are strong as you will see.  

2.6. Authority

Milgram’s obedience study: It has always been known that authority affects behavior. However, the strength of this effect was not fully appreciated until the influential studies by Stanley Milgram starting in the 1960s. For an excellent summary of this and related follow-ups, see the Psychwiki entry.

4.0 Mere Glossary Link exposure

This demonstration shows that exposure to messages affects us even when we pay little attention (low involvement). In contrast to the viewpoint of the makers of the video, this is not based on subliminal images.

5.1. Distraction

Watch this video and answer the questions. Here is another one.

7.2.1 Use simple prose for high-involvement products with arguments

The famous Dr. Fox study showed that complex but nonsensical lectures to faculty and staff received high ratings. Attendees commented that while they did not understand everything Dr. Fox said, he certainly "knew his stuff." More

7.2.1 Use simple prose for high-involvement products with arguments 

Over 100 published science journal articles just gibberish. More

Aims:This evidence-based site summarizes empirical research on how to develop persuasive communications and how to test their persuasiveness. It provides specific advice on what to do in what situations. It explains why the principles work and provides evidence on their effectiveness. For more on the aims, see "Welcome."


Principle of the day:

6.9.1 Consider negative advertising when there is only one major alternative to your brand, that brand has serious shortcomings, and industry demand is not a key factor

New to the site?
If so, we suggest starting with "Welcome" and "FAQ"

Today's Exercise

Finalist for AMA’s 2011 Best Book in Marketing

A complete description of the principles has
been published in Persuasive Advertising

German Edition available

About AdPrin

The Advertising Principles site summarizes all useful knowledge about advertising so that it can be used by researchers, practitioners, and educators. Ideas for improving the site, please send to the Site Manager Rui Du (Jessie):


© Copyright J. Scott Armstrong and Kesten C. Green. All rights are reserved. Web Design by Zoe Communications Ltd.