The Process of Persuasion
Other kinds of writing may have a variety of purposes, but copywriting in Promotion (Advertising; Sales Promotion Marketing Public Relations) has one main aim -persuasion. There is a logical order to persuasive advertising that carries the audience to the point of favourable action. Various authorities on the art of persuasion have advanced numerous formulas for this process, but they are all fundamentally variations on a relatively simple theory-AIDA. The AIDA theory suggests that in order to persuade, an advertisement must first attract attention, then create interest, next stimulate desire, and finally get action. There has been some criticism of the AIDA principle on the grounds that it is too academic and assumes that the reader of advertisements is a rational man. Undoubtedly, the sophisticated copywriter recognises that writing advertisements is not always so simple; still, this process is basic to the art of persuasion. Only after learning it can the copywriter go beyond it.
If we are going to persuade the reader to buy our product, we must attract his or her attention. The best of advertisements are useless if nobody notices them. There are two general types of attention-getting devices. One includes external factors over which the copywriter has little or no control and the other involves internal factors which are to a large degree directly under his control.
The external factors include such things as the medium in which the advertisement appears and the size and position of the advertisement. For example, the readers of some magazines regard advertising as editorial matter. A Voguereader, for example, is interested in the fashions the various advertisers are showing. When advertising is closely related to editorial content, considerable attention is likely to be paid to the advertisements. On the other hand, in general editorial magazines, in which there is little relation between the advertisements and the editorial content, advertisements elicit little spontaneous interest from readers and there is need for stronger attention-getting devices.
Size is another external factor influencing attention. Obviously, the larger the advertisement, the more likely the reader will be to notice it. Likewise, position affects attention. An advertisement appearing on the fourth (back) cover of a magazine will attract greater attention than that same advertisement appearing in an run of press position.
The copywriter himself has two principal attention-getting devices, the headline and the illustration. The effectiveness of either is to some degree dictated by the layout which can emphasise either or both to gain maximum attention.
A word of caution must be given about attention-getting devices. Attention is simply a means of attracting readers to read the whole advertisement. Therefore, these devices should be related to the rest of the advertisements. The reader whose attention is attracted by a headline, only to find that it has little or no relation to the rest of the advertisement, is apt to be resentful. Using an illustration of a scantily clad girl in an advertisement for office furniture will disappoint the reader and may make him lose interest in the copy.
Because few persons read advertisements in their entirety, the attention-getting devices should try to include as many of the other AIDA factors as possible. If a headline, in addition to gaining attention, can also promise some benefit to the consumer and identify the advertiser, it is likely that more people seeing the advertisement will get the message. In addition, the illustration can be used to call attention to the product and the package.
Ideally, the attention-getting devices should lead the reader to the body copy, and hold his interest. There is no better way of stimulating interest than by appealing to the reader’s self-interest. All too often, the copywriter writes in terms of the advertiser instead of the consumer. The approach needed is what is referred to as the “you” attitude. The consumer is not interested in how wonderful the company is; he wants to know what the product will do for him.
Each step in the persuasion process is important, but none is so important that it can stand alone. Having stimulated interest, the advertisement’s next task is to stimulate the reader’s desire for the product. The easiest way to stimulate desire is to show that the product will benefit the reader, show that he will not be as well off without it, and prove it. Again, the emphasis should be on consumer self-interest. Claims may be met with scepticism, so it is necessary to convince the reader that the advertisement’s claims are valid. Not only should they be substantiated, but they must be believable.
No advertisement can be complete unless it “asks for the order” orasks the reader to take the required objective action. This may be stated directly: “Try it soon and see,” or “Get some soon. In some cases the urge to action is implied in the copy without being explicitly stated.