By Suzanne Hedberg
Familiar Phrases and Persuasion
When talking about current familiar phrases, it is impossible to do so without also talking about how advertisements have an effect on our speech. In today’s society, people are exposed to many common phrases through the internet, television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Nearly every major company has adopted a phrase, theme, or jingle. Many people would be able to recognize Obama’s “hope and change” theme in the 2008 presidential election, sing the jingle to FreeCreditReport.com, or identify State Farm Insurance Company’s phrase, “Like a good neighbor…” These phrases are meant to persuade the audience to utilize the company, or, in Obama’s case, vote for the candidate. Everyday phrases such as these are examples of how the elaboration likelihood model works in our everyday lives.
The elaboration likelihood model holds that there are two “routes” to persuasion – the central route and the peripheral route. Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell maintain that “motivation to engage in persuasive transactions is related to attentional factors, message quality, a person’s involvement in the issue, and a person’s ability to process persuasive argument” (Jowett and O’Donnell, 2006). Attitude change that stems from purposeful evaluation, logic, or elaboration is the central route to persuasion. It creates an enduring attitude related to behavioral intention. Generally phrases that are easily picked up on are due to peripheral cues which are driven by the attractiveness of the argument. The attractiveness of the slogan or phrase makes it easily picked up and remembered. It does not require the audience to weigh the pros and cons and evaluate the product. The peripheral route of persuasion is most often used in advertisement. Most ads are short (one minute or less) and are run multiple times in order to get the phrase across to the audience.
Repetition is a common tactic in all persuasion and would not be effective otherwise. If, for example, FreeCreditReport.com’s commercial ran once on television and never aired again, this would be ineffective. The goal of any company is to have name recognition so the company can make itself known and remembered (Rank, 2008). Our everyday lives are flooded with repeated commercials and ads that flash their phrase in hopes it will by catchy to their audience, be remembered, and therefore be persuasive.
In our notes, Erwin P. Bettinghaus and Michael J. Cody say, “persuasion involves [a] conscious effort to influence” (J. Fisher, personal communication, September 18, 2009). When discussing persuasion as a conscious effort in regards to phrases shared within a group, I must disagree with Bettinghaus and Cody. Our everyday actions and phrases often have an effect on others, whether it is intended or unintended. Take for instance a phrase that one friend often says to another. More than likely, if the two spend enough time together the second person will pick it up. This is not because the first was persuading her to do so, but because groups often share similar values and similar senses of humor. Additionally, the unintended receiver effect does not follow what Bettinghaus and Cody claim about persuasion either. Merely talking about a product to a group of friends and someone overhearing and going out and buying the product does not constitute as a conscious effort to influence others.
The internet, television, radio, newspapers and magazines all offer phrases which are either remembered and repeated by the public – offering an example of effective persuasion – or forgotten by the public – offering an example of ineffective persuasion. The elaboration likelihood model shows us how we are persuaded by advertising or campaigning. Persuasion does not only occur in advertisements presented daily in media outlets, but also in circles of friends who merely share common phrases with each other. Maybe next time a phrase comes along you won’t be so easily persuaded. Or, maybe the FreeCreditReport.com’s jingle will just get stuck in your head.
Fisher, J. (2009, September). Intentionality and persuasion. Maryville, Missouri.
Jowett, G.S. & V. O’Donnell. (2006). Chapter 4. Propaganda and Persuasion Examined. In Propaganda and Persuasion, 4th edition (pp. 161-202). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Rank, H. (2008). The abcs of tv ads. Retrieved from http://webserve.govst.edu/pa/Advertising/ABCs/abc_list.htm.