Advertising Principles - Evidence-based principles

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New Papers: Published or Working papers

Papers relevant to evidence-based advertising can be posted in this section to stake an early claim and to request peer review from visitors to this site. Also send published papers. If you do not have the copyright or permission from the journal, please send the working paper that was submitted for publication.

Are ads that follow evidence-based principles more effective?

We recruited novices and experts in advertising, presented them with 96 pairs of print ads matched for product, brand, and media, and asked them to pick which ad in each pair was more effective. The novices were correct for 54%, of their 10.809 prediction, or slightly better than guessing. Experts were slightly more accurate than novices at 55.4 of 2,764 predictions.  Other novices took a one hour self-administered training session after which, aided by a software program, they rated the extent to which each ad followed evidence-based principles for persuasive advertising. This procedure, described in our 2016 paper,  “Predictive Validity of Evidence-Based Persuasion Principles: An Application of the Index Method,” used five raters for each of the 96 pairs of ads. The ad that had the highest score for complying with the principles was predicted to be most effective. This led to correct predictions for 74.5% of the 96 pairs of ads.

“Evidence-based Advertising” J. S. Armstrong, International Journal of Advertising (2011) along with a review of that paper published in Social Business by Michael Baker in 2012.

Extensive and repeated testing of diverse, alternative, and reasonable hypotheses is necessary in order to increase knowledge about advertising. This calls for laboratory, field, and quasi-experimental studies. Fortunately, much useful empirical research on how to create persuasive advertisements kind has been conducted.

Reviews of Persuasive Advertising

Denise M Rousseau, an expert on evidence-based management, reviewed Persuasive Advertising. Interfaces 42, No 1, 2011, 93-9

Philip Gendall Professor of Marketing, Massey University, New Zealand wrote a review that was followed by Scott Armstrong’s Persuasive Advertising is only the end of the beginning: A rejoinder to the review.

Review by Peter Mouncey in the International Journal of Market Research

Experience Versus Evidence in Advertising. Can advertisers learn from experience?


Should Super Bowl Ads Emphasize their Brands—and follow other evidence-based principles?

To gain attention, advertisers on the Super Bowl ignore many persuasion principles. Here are two examples:

Mystery Ads: Many companies used “mystery ads” in the Super Bowl. That is, they decided to conceal the name of their brand. About 90% of print ads by major brands regard their brand as a way to communicate useful information. Experimental evidence to date shows that by prominently mentioning the brand name at the beginning of an advertisement, persuasion would increase by 44%. Assuming a $500,000 ad that broke even, the firm would have earned an additional $220,000. (See Principle 5.5.1 in Persuasive Advertising.) More

Why you should use checklists when you create advertisements

J. Scott Armstrong. June 8, 2014

Despite their confidence, experts are unable to make useful decisions when they need to know the effects of changes in complex situations (Armstrong 1980; Tetlock 2006).  This applies to doctors, engineers, military leaders, aviators, executives, and advertisers. There is a standard solution to decision-making for complex problems when good knowledge exists about the causal factors: the use of “checklists.” More

Which ads are most effective? Has the Wanamaker problem been solved? 

J. Scott Armstrong, June 2014 (updated)

In a letter to John, Scott Armstrong explains how research over the past century has finally been able to answer Wanamaker's questions about which half of his advertising budget is being wasted --- well almost half of the waste.  See the letter. Use this link More


Distraction is a popular advertising tactic that, when used properly, can be effective. It should be avoided if people might be deceived into making poor decisions. To use distraction to deceive would be unethical and, if used by a business, would also likely harm long-run profitability. In my opinion, the primary value of distraction is to delight people who are making hedonic decisions. It is like the enjoyment one gets when magicians use distraction to deceive them, as described in “A Pickpocket’s Tale”.

In some cases it can lead people to make decisions that are good for them by distracting them from thinking about their objections. But it has also be used inappropriately some organizations, For example, some firms advertise their support of popular social causes so as to divert attention from their irresponsible behavior in other areas (Kotchen & Moon 2011). In addition, some advertisers use distraction in such a way that it distracts people from an important message in the advertisement.

For more on distraction, see Persuasive Advertising (pages 106-110).

Scott Armstrong

In the News

When Big Companies Sponsor Stuff, Does It Work? New York Magazine

This story addresses the profitability of investments in sponsoring events, stadiums, and teams. It draws upon evidence in Chapter 4 of Persuasive Advertising. Interestingly, in helping on this story, I learned from an Associated Press story by Anthony McCartney on January 15, 2011, that “Studies commissioned by the United States Postal Service estimated the agency received at least three times the value of the $32 million spent sponsoring Lance Armstrong's cycling teams during their heyday.” This contrasts sharply with the estimate by the independent US Inspector General estimated that increased revenues (not profits) of only $700,000. In short, sponsorship lost virtually the entire investment. I would appreciate hearing about well-designed (preferably experimental) research on this issue. I will then report back on this additional research.

Scott Armstrong


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