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5.3 How communications work

The paper by Kotler and Zaltman (1971) emphasises the crucial fact that, for both commercial and social marketers, it is the combination of the ‘marketing mix’ elements (i.e. product, price, place and promotion) which will effect behavioural change. So what can we expect from communication and what objectives can be set for advertising and other elements of the promotional mix? In order to answer these questions we have to have some understanding of how promotion, and specifically advertising, works.

There are many advertising models and frameworks and they all have their critics. One approach is to focus on the stages which consumers move through as their attitudes towards the product develops. These are based on the attitude model which was discussed in Section 3.4, i.e. the cognitive–affective–conative model. See Figure 7.

Figure 7
Figure 7 Hierarchy of effects models
  • The AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) model was originally designed to illustrate the stages which a salesperson should take the customer through and has subsequently been adopted as an explanation of how advertising works.

  • The DAGMAR model (defining advertising goals for measured advertising results) provides communications tasks which are specific and measurable using a four-stage approach, i.e. awareness, comprehension, conviction and action.

  • Similarly, the hierarchy of effects model (awareness, knowledge, liking, preference, conviction and purchase) is based on the idea that advertising will guide potential consumers through a number of stages which are essential if purchase (or other required behaviour) is to result.

There are many criticisms of these sequential models:

  • behaviour can precede the other elements of attitude for some decisions.

  • a favourable attitude and positive intention does not necessarily result in purchase.

  • the length of time which consumers take to move through the stages is unclear.

  • how are these stages to be measured, e.g. how would you measure conviction?

  • similar to the general criticism of the marketing mix approach is the focus on the consumer as a passive recipient of messages rather than one who will actively engage in information search and is also likely to reject messages which are inconsistent with current attitudes.

  • later approaches to communication theory have added other sources of information which impact on the target market. In particular the role of opinion leaders and word-of-mouth communication from peer groups and others are important determinants of whether consumers will act on the basis of formal communications from marketers.

Although there are many issues in explaining how advertising (and other forms of communication) works and many other factors (e.g. the role of memory, the level of involvement with the product) have been included in subsequent models and examined in research studies – the sequential or stage approach can contribute to our understanding of the role of marketing communications. As with most theories and frameworks we have to ensure that the approach is relevant to the specific purpose and problem we are looking at and that we are aware of the limitations.