Quick Hit: Early persuasion changes interpretation of facts.
Political consultants have generally accepted the power of television as a tool for persuasion, but most campaigns deploy TV at the end of the campaign.
This makes perfect sense, given limited budgets and a desire to be salient at a time where actual decisions are being made.
However, research into the power of persuasion of TV ads also supports an early start – particularly when dealing with a new candidate or issue.
This is because these ads can change the way people think about everything they hear afterwards – including other ads and “facts.”
In their study, “How persuasive messages can influence behavior without awareness,” J. Edward Russo and Anne-Sophie Chaxel tested the impact of persuasive TV ads on subsequent consumer choices prior to receiving facts (in this case about two competiting vacation destinations). Other groups received facts before TV persuasion, and a control group made the choice with neither.
Their results showed a significant effect of “persuasion first” advertising – and how these ads substantially influenced the rest of the choosing process. There was little difference in the way consumers behaved when getting the facts first/TV second and the control group.
By hitting with persuasion first, they were able to create distorition in the way that the subjects viewed both the subsequent facts and the choices.
While there is tremendous pressure to keep burn rates low at the beginnings of campaigns, and to “keep the powder dry” to make sure that there is enough for a big push at the end, this study would support a different approach – particularly with new/unknown candidates and causes.
Could an early buy change the electorate for the rest of the race? This research indicates it could dramatically change the way people then interpret what they see in the press and beyond about your candidate. It might actually insulate your candidate against future persuasive messaging.
This “first-in” early spend approach could be financially (and sometimes politically) risky, but it might make sense – especially when messaging to audiences you know will be highly contested. Plus – there’s an argument that it would be cheaper to win them in Q2 or Q3 2015 than it would be to win them in November 2016.