For over a century, advertising and marketing researchers have carefully dealt with the forces that influence purchasing decision-making. Given that consumers vary significantly in age, education, income, preferences and other factors, advertisers need to understand how consumers translate advertising inputs into buying responses because only then they are able to effectively develop their marketing strategies. However, due to barriers related to psychological influences on consumer behavior, advertisers do not receive reliable feedback on their efforts. To that end, the hierarchy of effects model is extremely helpful.
The Hierarchy of Effects Model
To anticipate and overcome psychological barriers on consumer behavior, advertisers use the hierarchy of effects model to measure advertising effectiveness as a series of steps that analyze the message impact on consumers. In the hierarchy of effects model, consumer behavior is influenced by the diversity of perspectives at the stages of pre-purchase and purchase, but also by the relationship between advertising and personal selling in each stage. The model deals with the way consumers process and ultimately use advertising stimuli to respond to different products and prices and influence product and brand choices.
The hierarchy of effects model holds that consumers respond to marketing messages in a structured way, based on how they think and feel and on what they do. This step-wise process begins with product awareness and results to actual purchase and plays a fundamental role in how advertisers develop efficient marketing communications through the route of cognition (thinking), affection (feeling) and conation (doing) and only in that order.
The model is called “hierarchy of effects” because at each stage marketers meet different communication goals from encouraging brand recognition to rewarding brand loyalty, depending on the stage the consumer has reached. Although widely known as AIDA (Attention – Interest – Desire – Action) model, the hierarchy of effects model is also referred to in marketing and advertising literature as DAGMAR (Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results) model and ATR (Awareness – Trial – Reinforcement) model. All models invariably introduce the main notion of marketing a firm’s brand through a pool of consumers / potential customers and advance them through a series of stages that include brand awareness, preference, acquisition and loyalty.
The AIDA Model
The AIDA (Attention – Interest – Desire – Action) model provides a sophisticated illustration about the entire process of how advertising affects consumer behavior. Having established the basis for measuring advertising effectiveness, the AIDA model is the groundwork for the hierarchy of effects model. Theorizing that advertising needs “to attract attention (cognition), maintain interest, create desire (affect), and get action (conation)”, the AIDA model proposes that consumer behavior moves from attention to interest, then desire and finally action.
Its first element, Attention, refers to the advertisers’ efforts to gain the attention of the consumer through effective advertisement. If consumer response to advertising is positive, the model proceeds to the next step, Interest, where consumer expresses interest in the particular brand. Then, in the step of Desire, the consumer theoretically manifests an active buying behavior. In the last step, Action, the theoretical manifestation transforms into actual buying behavior.
The DAGMAR Model
The DAGMAR (Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results) model is used to monitor advertising effectiveness. Holding that consumer behavior moves from awareness to comprehension, then conviction, and finally action, the DAGMAR model doesn’t focus on sales alone, but rather on the hierarchy of advertising objectives. In the first stage, the consumer is unaware that a particular brand exists. Therefore, the advertiser aims at making the consumer aware of a particular product or service to the extent that the consumer will fully comprehend the brand attributes and will gradually move from unawareness to action.
In the context of DAGMAR model, advertising not only needs to stimulate purchase awareness, but also to include knowledge about the product. Consumers need to become aware of the benefits of product usage by getting to know the key attributes of the brand. In that way, they are more likely to be persuaded to try the product once and be engaged in purchasing activities on a regular basis.
For the DAGMAR model to be effective, advertisers need to be able to answer questions such as (1) What the product is about, (2) What are product’s potential features and benefits, and (3) What customers get from the product. In doing so, the DAGMAR model is a powerful tool in introducing new products; anticipating competitive moves; enhancing brand image; expanding customer base; retaining customers; stimulating impulse purchases and encouraging other advertising and sales promotion activities.
The ATR Model
The ATR (Awareness – Trial – Reinforcement) model proposes that consumer behavior is subject to previous buying experience and views brand loyalty as a result of strong customer awareness of alternative products and stable buying patterns. Theorizing that advertising needs to consider personal experience in reinforcing purchasing decision-making, the ATR model holds that advertising primarily stimulates awareness or interest about a product aiming to engage consumers in trial purchases. During those trial purchases consumers try different brands and eventually tend to return to their habitual brands in the absence of any obvious or compelling reason to switch to a new brand.
Through repetitive usage, consumers reinforce their purchase decisions and develop demand patterns. The ATR model concludes that demand patterns are not greatly affected by changes in advertising expenditure as repetitive advertising actually reinforces already developed purchasing habits thus essentially contributing to long-term sales.
Implications Of The Hierarchy Of Effects Model
AIDA, DAGMAR and ATR models consider consumer response as a movement through a sequence of stages assuming that cognitive maturity precedes affective reaction which precedes behavior. Although the sequence “thinking” – “feeling” – “doing” seems reasonable, there are cases that cognitive maturity leads directly to behavior change. When this happens, advertising is a “low involvement” situation where the change in perception about the product is unconscious and not the result of the advertising impact on the consumer.
On the other hand, the general model of “cognition first – preference second” is widely acceptable in relatively complex decision-making cases, where advertising is a “high involvement” situation providing a theoretical framework of the sequence of steps from the initial awareness to the final purchase.
Another implication of the hierarchy of effects model is that, in some cases, the consumer response from awareness to preference is minor and from preference to purchase is extremely major, while in some cases the opposite is true. Also, there are cases that customers progress several stages at once. This is explained by the fact that consumer behavior is subject to psychological and/or economical factors that influence the purchasing decision-making. Market fluctuations, competitive aggression, pricing variations and other factors raise psychological barriers on consumer behavior and influence consumer response to advertising.
In conclusion, despite the enormous amount of money spent on advertising, the advertising industry is subject to barriers that relate to psychological influences on consumer behavior. Therefore, advertising strategies have to rely on advanced quality-assurance systems, able to provide reliable feedback. Or else, the advertising effort fails to meet consumer expectations. The impact of advertising effectiveness on consumer behavior can be measured by the hierarchy of effects model, a conceptualized framework that allows unambiguous assumptions in the hierarchy of effects. However, advertisers need to take into account altering market realities, competitive aggression, price variations and other factors that raise psychological barriers on consumer behavior, making advertising industry volatile in its feedback.
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