The peripheral route to persuasion occurs when a person is influenced by cues in a message rather than the message itself.
Message cues could include:
- The spokesperson’s charming personality
- Emotional appeals
- Visual imagery
Definition of the Peripheral Route to Persuasion
Peripheral route persuasion is a component of the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion proposed by Petty and Cacioppo (1986).
In the peripheral route, there is very little scrutiny of the information presented in the message.
Therefore, it does not require substantial cognitive effort by the recipient. The peripheral route is used when message recipients are either not motivated to scrutinize the message or don’t have enough data in their knowledge base to do so.
Central vs Peripheral Routes to Persuasion
Petty and Cacioppo’s model actually contains two routes to persuasion: central and peripheral.
The central route results:
“…from a person’s careful and thoughtful consideration of the true merits of the information presented…” (1986, p. 125).
The central route is likely to be activated when a person has expertise in the subject matter or is highly involved in the issue.
So, while the message is being delivered, they will spend significant cognitive energy processing the statements and comparing them to the information they have stored in their existing base of knowledge.
The peripheral route involves a:
“…simple cue in the persuasion context (e.g., an attractive source) that induces change without necessitating scrutiny of the true merits of the information presented” (1986, p. 125).
Although the peripheral route can lead to message recipients being quickly won over by the message, the effect can be challenged. Persuasion is less entrenched into a person’s attitudes and can be easily changed with another message.
Peripheral Route to Persuasion Examples
1. Tough Guys in Truck Commercials
Summary: A rugged tough-guy celebrity is in a car ad in order to appeal to men who want to be like him and drive big trucks like him.
While watching Monday Night Football there can be a lot of commercials. One in particular is advertising the latest and greatest model of a brand’s famous line of trucks.
The commercial has a famous celebrity who is well-known for Hollywood tough-guy action movies. He fights a lot of villains, gets shot a few times, but still manages to save both the damsel in distress and the world.
This is the celebrity’s MO. He’s tough and rugged, just like his truck. In the commercial the celebrity remarks about how much he enjoys driving his truck down dirt roads and through muddy streams.
This is exactly the kind of ad that is going to be processed via the peripheral route for viewers that don’t know a lot about trucks, but like the idea of being tough.
2. Nationalism in Television Advertisements
Summary: Instead of selling the product features, brands will sell the product as being commensurate with a nationalistic consumer identity.
Instead of selling product features, many brands appeal to nationalism as a reason to purchase the product.
If the brand can position itself as having an identity commensurate with that of the consumer, then consumers may be compelled to buy it because it appeals to their sense of self, not because of its intrinsic value.
In fact, some brands even re-use the same advertisements in different countries, but just change up the country name! This is evident, for example, in the Weet-Bix commercials in Australia and New Zealand, which state “Aussie Kids are Weet-Bix Kids” and “Kiwi Kids are Weet-Bix Kids” in their respective countries.
3. Cheering Crowds in Political Campaign Ads
Summary: A political advertisement uses crowds of smiling people waving at the politician as a cue to show that the politician is well-liked and has the momentum in the campaign.
Consider this scenario: there is an upcoming election for governor and the airways are full of TV ads. One ad in particular shows the candidate being greeted warmly by a cheerful and enthusiastic crowd.
The candidate walks through town and shakes a lot of hands.
In the middle of the ad there are several quick shots of voters smiling, giving a thumbs up, and patting the candidate on the back. It is clear that this crowd really admires the candidate and will undoubtedly cast their vote accordingly.
This is the kind of ad that is full of cues. There are no statements made about policy, just short scenes of the candidate being liked by others; an obvious attempt at peripheral route processing for voters less-informed on the issues. See the Obama ad above for a similar example.
4. Women in Men’s Shampoo Advertisements
Summary: A men’s shampoo advert has beautiful women looking with smoldering eyes at a man who just washed his hair to signify that the shampoo makes you more attractive.
Here’s a commercial you may have seen before. The first scene is of a handsome male with a full head of hair. He is massaging a heaping mound of shampoo through his scalp while showering.
In the next scene his is blow-drying and styling his crown and looking quite happy with his super handsomeness self in the mirror. Then his girlfriend approaches from behind and gives him a warm and affectionate embrace.
She is stunningly attractive and is also quite happy with his handsomeness. She rubs her fingers through his lustrous and well-styled hair right before they are seen leaving for a glamorous night out.
This type of commercial relies on the attractiveness of the models in the ad to persuade viewers to purchase the shampoo. There is no information about the shampoo itself, other than if you use it, you too will be handsome and have a beautiful girlfriend.
5. Muscles in Protein Shake Commercials
Summary: Muscular men are used to sell protein shakes as a visual cue for the idealized identity that the product promises.
Working out is strenuous and burns a lot of calories. Your body needs a lot of nutrition if you are serious about getting in tip-top shape. For those interested in building muscle mass, it is well-known that this requires a lot of protein.
Enter the protein shake industry. Go to any health-food store or gym, and you will see lots of brands that offer protein powder. The commercials for this product often involve scenes of very muscular men and women in the gym working-out.
They are lifting more weight and jumping higher than most of us can imagine. Some ads may also include a few words from an MMA star or famous Olympic champion. They endorse the brand because it helped them achieve greatness, and you can too.
This type of commercial is a classic example of a message presenting a lot of peripheral cues: athletes and celebrities.
6. Runners in Nike Ads
Summary: Nike is a quintessential example of a brand that uses the peripheral route to persuasion. They never actually describe the features of the shoes!
The Nike shoe ads have become one of the most effective campaigns in history. The famous Steve Jobs was a great admirer of the Nike strategy and often used their commercials as examples of great marketing.
As he stated, the ads say almost nothing about the shoe. The ads are all about values and showing people engaged in inspirational feats of athleticism. They are running up steep hillsides in the mountains or sprinting the last mile of a marathon.
The ads are all about visual imagery and creating a feeling in viewers. These are message cues meant to persuade viewers via the peripheral route…and they have been highly effective for a very long time.
7. Gordon Ramsay Selling Kitchen Appliances
Summary: Celebrities who promote products can persuade people to purchase the products because the celebrity is trusted and much-loved.
These days there is a kitchen appliance for every need. The number of gadgets on the market is staggering. This can make it a bit challenging to know which one to use and which company makes the best version.
You could go to YouTube and watch a hundred videos of people you don’t know telling you which one to buy. But then you have to consider that half of those videos are actually sponsored by the company whose product they recommend. So, what do you do?
The answer is, you rely on a peripheral route of persuasion. Instead of trying to become an expert in various appliances, just go with the advice of someone you know and trust. That could be the advice of a trusted relative, or a famous chef like Gordon Ramsay.
Either way, relying on the expertise of an expert is a safe way to make a solid purchase.
8. Nostalgia in Life Insurance Ads
Summary: Life Insurance advertisements often use nostalgic footage or celebrities to differentiate the product in a marketplace where the products are all very similar.
Everyone needs life insurance. But does anyone really have the time to research all of the possible coverage schemes and companies?
The different plans can be quite complex and most of us do not have training as an actuary.
This is the primary reason that most commercials for life insurance rely on nostalgia or celebrity persuasion to convert viewers.
The insurance companies know that a central route to persuasion is highly unlikely because most people just don’t have the necessary data to make a judgment. So, they rely on emotional cues like nostalgia or social cues like celebrity status to activate the peripheral route to persuasion.
9. Appeal to Emotion in Charity Advertisements
Summary: Charity advertisements rely on pulling on the heartstrings in order to motivate viewers into taking action.
One way to activate the peripheral route to persuasion is to incorporate emotional appeals into the message.
The goal is to get viewers to be impacted emotionally, which will then lead to the formation of a particular attitude and motivate them to take action.
When we see a commercial that shows emaciated young children living in squalor under horrible conditions, it strikes right at the heart. This kind of emotional appeal is a strong cue that can be very effective.
There is no need to present a lot of statistics on world hunger or the overhead costs of the charity. The message is emotionally charged enough to compel many viewers to action immediately.
10. Elderly Celebrities in Ads Targeted at Seniors
Summary: An elderly celebrity who is best known by older generations is used in a smartphone advertisement to appeal to the seniors demographic.
A group of senior citizens are gathered together to watch one of their favorite television series.
During each commercial break an ad is aired about the newest phone offered by a well-known brand.
The spokesperson for the ad has been an actress for decades and is well-liked by everyone in the group. She has a reputation as being an honest and wholesome person that others can count on.
She holds up her new phone and talks about how much she likes it because it’s light and easy to carry. Plus, she trusts the brand and never buys any other phone from another company.
In this kind of ad, the intent is to build an association between the honest spokesperson and the brand. Viewers trust the word of the spokesperson, so the phone must be good. They are relying on the message cues from the spokesperson to form their opinion.
The peripheral route to persuasion is when a person relies on the cues contained in a message to form an opinion. The person may not have the motivation or knowledge base to critically analyze the strength and quality of the statements presented. Therefore, they must rely on other features, such as the emotional appeal, visual imagery, or spokesperson.
A message presented by a person that is likeable, attractive, or has some status as an expert is going to be very convincing on issues that we know very little about. If they say something is true, we will believe them.
The peripheral route to persuasion is commonly used in luxury items, cosmetic products, and even in more serous matters such as political campaigns and insurance programs. Although effective, that impact may be short-lived.
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