Advertising Principles - Evidence-based principles

When does complex writing protect a person (or advertiser) with weak arguments?

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] While this strategy appears to work for lawyers, doctors, politicians, and professors when they have weak arguments, Daniel Oppenheimer shows in a series of five experiments that it does not work for students. Why not? His study adds support to Principle 7.2.1 in Persuasive Advertising (p183-4). Complexity only helps when weak arguments are delivered by a high-status source. When that is the case, people defer to authority. As with most new entrants to a situation (e.g., advertising by an unknown firm), students lack high status. Thus, professors are not likely to simply assume that students are knowledgeable about the subject they are discussing. Students might also keep in mind that when all of the arguments are strong, clarity is more persuasive than obfuscation. Oppenheimer’s paper is, “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity.”


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