Advertising seeks to persuade people to purchase a good or service, or to adopt a desired behavior. In 2010, $131 billion were spent in the U.S. to persuade people to engage in some action after viewing, listening to, or reading, an ad (1). So far, there is no secret formula to designing an effective marketing campaign. There is an old saw in which a marketer says, "Only one-half of my advertising budget is effective; I just don't know which half." That is the marketer's dilemma: how to determine which ads are effective. This paper reports two neuroscience experiments designed to identify why public service ads are effective by measuring--and pharmacologically manipulating--the brain mechanisms that are expected to produce behavioral effects.
We choose to use public service advertisements (PSAs) because they provide a clear metric of behavioral change: donating money to the featured cause. Many PSAs produce attitude changes toward issues in ads, but actions do not always follow positive attitudes. One way to increase attitude strength is to grab participants’ attention (2). Indeed, most of the empirical marketing literature has focused on the attentional effects of advertising – how successful ads stand out from the thousands of messages consumers see each day (3-4). While the strength of an attitude is associated with behavioral changes (5), why attitude changes do not always lead to actions is a mystery.
In the present study, we adapted the first formal advertising model, AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) (6) to identify the physiologic correlates of attention and action in the context of PSAs. In our augmented model, we propose that adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and oxytocin (OT) are key neurologic contributors to successful PSAs due to their relationships with attention and action. Our mapping from physiologic factors to the AIDA model is imperfect, as we focus solely on attention and action, but it is included for pedagogical purposes. By extending the AIDA model, we ground our approach in an existing framework and generate testable hypotheses that seek to identify why some PSAs, particularly those with social content, are effective.
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