As an IMC enthusiast, I like connecting with experts in our field. This month it is with great pleasure that we welcome the work of Professor Joseph E. Phelps, Chairman of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at The University of Alabama. Professor Phelps collaborated with Dr. Lu Zheng, University of Florida, to author the intellectually stimulating article blog post below.
I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Joseph Phelps by video conferencing with his class over the past few years. I believe we both enjoy confusing people by having two IMC guys named Phelps. But he’s Joe Bama and I’m just Joe. We’re essentially located in “Hollywood” where we have the greatest collection of modern day storytellers all around us. So Joseph’s article below is especially appropriate for our blog. Enjoy!
-Joe Phelps | CEO
Engaging Narrative Advertising:
Why is Quality Storytelling so Persuasive?
In an earlier post, Francisco Letelier, VP Creative, discusses why a campaign for Honda worked for the Total Market. He wrote, “It worked because it was based on universal human aspirations and principles; it had a clear, simple and entertaining storyline with well defined characters that were easily recognizable by any human being. Being able to tell stories that are rooted in these elements is what addressing the Total Market is all about.”
The results of recent studies conducted by Jupiter Research and by the Advertising Research Foundation echo Letelier’s point. This research found advertising that communicates brand stories to be highly effective. Perhaps most telling was that the majority of the marketers participating in these studies indicated that they were interested in brand storytelling because they see a relationship between success and the ability to tell the most engaging narratives.
Narrative vs. Argument Advertising
Bill Wells argued long ago argued that advertising consists of two basic forms: lecture/argument and drama/narrative. Narrative advertising, such as the Honda ad mentioned earlier, portrays a story germane to the experiences or consequences of the product consumption. Argument advertising presents product-attribute information based on arguments and evidence and attempts to convince its audience of a claim through logical arguments and reasoning.
So what is new here? Advertising people have long known that the ability to tell engaging stories could increase advertising effectiveness. What remains unknown by advertising practitioners and scholars is the deeper understanding and explanation of HOW/WHY narrative advertising persuades.
What is needed is an empirically validated theory that can explain narrative processing and persuasion. One that complements the dominant persuasion models (e.g., Elaboration Likelihood Model) in the academic literature. Those dominant models contribute to our understanding of argument based rhetorical persuasion but have little ability to explain persuasion via narrative advertising. This is critical because just as arguments and narratives work in distinct fashions, people process the information in these forms differently. Processing function, in this case, follows information form with different mechanisms thereby underlying persuasion produced via narrative advertising than by argument-based advertising.
Melanie Green’s Transportation-Imagery Model
Much of the relevant previous research views narrative-based belief change to be the result of empathy. As this research evolved, a persuasion model, the Transportation-Imagery Model began to emerge with the potential to explain narrative-based persuasion. In this model transportation constitutes the underlying mechanism in narrative-based belief change.
Transportation refers to a feeling of being lost in the story or immersed into the narrative world. According to the basic model, there are three antecedents of transportation, including cognitive attention, mental imagery, and emotional involvement. The synergy of these three antecedents leads to transportation, which causes belief change.
At this point, however, the Transportation-Imagery Model is just in its infancy and much work is needed before its potential is fully realized. My colleague, Lu Zheng, and I are working to facilitate the maturation of this model and its application to advertising. If you are interested you can find our extensive discussion of the model and how it can be improved in Chapter 17 of the just published book, Advertising Theory. You can get a glimpse of the book using this link http://www.amazon.com/Advertising-Theory-Routledge-Communication-Rodgers/dp/0415886619
What you will see in our chapter is that although the three antecedents of transportation have been identified and the basic mechanism of belief change via transportation has been delineated, little is known about the factors influencing the three antecedents and transportation in general. In addition, the bulk of the currently identified factors have yet to be empirically examined in an advertising context. Understanding what influences the antecedents is essential if advertisers are to make use of this model to aid the development of more transporting/engaging narratives. This understanding is also crucial for a fuller explanation of how persuasion via narrative advertising occurs.
We hope you will read the chapter and if there is enough interest perhaps we will be invited back for another blog entry on this topic.
- Professor Joe “Bama” Phelps and Dr. Lu Zheng