Identifying Persuasion Techniques

Makosky (1985) argued that most introductory textbooks tend to focus on persuasion issues such as communicator attributes, whether the message is one- or two-sided, and aspects of the audience like attention and prior opinions concerning the message. She noted, however, that advertising makes use of additional persuasion techniques that may not be included in the textbook. Therefore, she proposed an exercise designed to expose the student to common techniques used in advertising. The techniques suggested for discussion and analysis by Makosky (1985) were:

1. an appeal to or creation of needs—Makosky suggested describing this technique through reference to Maslow's hierarchy of needs (biological, safety and security, belonging and love, self-esteem and status, cognitive, aesthetic, and self-actualization).

2. social and prestige suggestion—these are techniques based on the premise that you should buy or do something because many others do so (social suggestion) or some well-known person makes a recommendation (prestige suggestion).

3. loaded words and images—Makosky noted that these tend to be more subtle techniques, including the use of attractive people in the advertisement, images of positive social situations associated with a product, or incorporating "buzzwords" such as "natural" for food and beauty products.

Using the techniques of persuasion described above, you need to find a set of advertisements that illustrate one or more of the types. The advertisements can either be recorded television commercials, print advertisements made into slides (or photocopied and made into packets), or both. After reviewing the types of persuasion techniques using several sample advertisements, hand out an answer sheet numbered 1 to 20 with the three types of persuasion listed next to each number. Tell the students that you are going to show them a series of 20 advertisements, and they are to indicate which types of persuasion, if any, are depicted in each by circling the name of the stereotype. After showing the advertisements, go over and discuss the students' responses to each. Makosky also suggested several variations such as examining the types of persuasion techniques used as a function of the cost of the magazine (expensive versus cheap) and the intended audience (male or female).

Makosky, V. P. (1985). Identifying major techniques of persuasion. Teaching of Psychology, 12, 42-43.

Reprinted from Hill, W. G. (1995). Instructor's resource manual for Psychology by S. F. Davis and J. J. Palladino. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.