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Understanding the Power of Persuasion in Contextual Advertising

By October 29, 2019 No Comments

ELM Central vs Peripheral Processing Routes.

In today’s fraught world of digital advertising, some of the key original tenets and scientific thinking that built the industry have been lost in the ether. The scourge of programmatic advertising platforms, poor quality content and a blatant disregard of the consumer needs and experiences has had a damning effect. Take the major backlash from an estimated 1.7 billion frustrated consumers now using ad blockers. We firmly believe that for advertisers to be successful, they must make a return to high-quality contextual ads that require little engagement from the consumers.


It all started with Petty & Cacioppo when in the early 80’s they published their Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion (ELM) which identified two routes to effective advertising to different consumers known as the central and peripheral routes. It was one giant leap for advertising and marketing.  Once this science was unleashed to the industry, it stood as a primary foundation for brand and advertising development. As the original authors concluded, ‘‘The ELM provides a fairly comprehensive framework for organizing, categorizing, and understanding the basic process underlying the effectiveness of persuasive communications.’’


Central Processing Route


The central route relies on thoughtful consideration of a message including ideas, content and hard facts. The consumers are motivated by their degree of interest in the subject. These were classified as ‘high involvement’ readers who carefully think about issue relevant information and weigh the arguments and content to their own standards; the cognitive crowd.


Peripheral Processing Route


Other viewers of advertising are influenced by peripheral cues that tap emotional or sensory source perceptions. Content presentation appeals to them without their need to process a lot of information on the brand or product. Well known endorsers, happy polar bears, romantic images or “the real thing” carry the appeal, or persuasiveness, of the ad to ‘low involvement’ viewers. Only the appeal of a peripheral cue was enough to form a consumer’s connection with the ad, product or brand.


Peripheral vs Central Route for Advertising


At the time, the original research posited that the central route had greater influence, was longer lasting and more resistant to change. Involvement and desire was key to this route. The peripheral route took less effort by the viewer as it relied on visual, emotional and similar cues, not details, to trigger an affinity toward the ad, brand or product. While this took less or even passive involvement, it was historically thought to be a lesser anchor between the consumer and brand or ad.


One critical factor that later came to the fore was the importance of demographics as advertisers realized they needed to accurately target content to the right consumers and choices had to be made as to which “persuasive route” to take. For example would somebody looking to buy a car require a central or peripheral route approach? And what about someone looking to buy apparel?


In 2002, Wendy Winn and Kati Beck quoted a respondent in a research investigation of effective web pages. “I do like the little pictures. I’m doing most of my shopping by looking at the tiny little pictures, not actually reading the descriptions. And I think I’m making decisions just looking at each for less than a second. But I find it much more convenient that way.”


As we look at the current state of digital advertising, other variables have come into play that were not present in previous decades. Brands abound, and information about them can be found on potentially thousands of web sites with incredible frequency. Social channels and blogging hold so much information and opinion on everything that contradictions clearly must be present on some level. And this should be problematic for advertisers as unbiased consideration by consumers is not a guaranteed outcome. Furthermore, thanks to programmatic advertising brands can find themselves paying for ad placements in places that would horrify them like an automaker finding their ads on neo-Nazi site.


The net result is that advertisers are paying millions of dollars for ad placements that are either completely missing their target audiences or are not being seen at all due to the sheer scale of ad blocking. When money is the only motivator for these platforms, the quality of advertising, targeting of advertising and brand exposure in totality leaves the purity of advertiser intent lying in the dust of the clutter.


With so much opinion and information and so little discretionary time available to consumers, it’s time that advertisers take a breath, reflect on what has worked in the past, high-quality contextual ads that are designed to maximize the interest of their audiences. We believe in today’s environment that peripheral or soft, emotional cues, are at least as effective as detailed messaging in swaying attitudes. At Adtoniq we have already seen the amazing impact doing right by consumers is having particularly in recovering the trust of ad block users who are now willing to see such ads. The power of persuasion is alive and kicking.

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