Persuasion is a communicative function that can be pursued in many different settings, ranging from face-to-face interaction to mass communication. Mass media persuasion takes three primary overt forms: commercial advertising (of consumer products and services), pro-social advertising, and political advertising. On each of these subjects, there is extensive empirical research and theorizing.

Studies of consumer advertising have examined such questions as the effectiveness of different advertising strategies, the role of endorsements in consumer advertising, effects of varying the frequency and timing of advertisements, the role of visual elements, and so on (e.g., Kardes et al. 2005). Advertising is commonly one part of a larger marketing effort involving decisions about pricing, product distribution, market segmentation, sales force management, and so forth.

Pro-social communication campaigns (sometimes termed “social marketing,” because such campaigns apply familiar marketing tools to pro-social ends) aim to forward environmental or charitable causes or to advance health-related ends such as encouraging people to exercise, quit smoking, and so forth. Research on health promotion communication has been informed by such theoretical approaches as the health belief model, the stages of change (transtheoretical) model of health behavior change, and the extended parallel process model (for collections of studies of pro-social campaigns, see Rice & Atkin 2001; Hornik 2002).

Studies of political persuasion (especially, but not exclusively, in the context of election campaign advertising) have examined such subjects as the effects of negative advertising and the role of televised political debates in elections (see, e.g., Mutz et al. 1996). This research is linked with broader work concerned with mass media influences on public opinion generally (see Glynn et al. 1999), including such topics as propaganda and the interplay of interpersonal interaction and mass media as influences on the public (e.g., the “two-step flow of communication”).

Beyond these three overt forms of mass media persuasion, advocates can also pursue persuasion through two other kinds of media content: news (by means of media advocacy) and entertainment (especially through entertainment education). “Media advocacy” refers to the strategic use of news media coverage to influence opinions on social or public policy questions. For example, in addition to using paid advertising, a health campaign might supply relevant news stories to local media outlets, or an advocacy group might seek to influence the framing of news stories concerning its particular issue. (For a practical guide to media advocacy, see Wallack et al. 1999).

Especially in the developing world, the use of entertainment programming to carry persuasive messages (e.g., about population control or disease prevention) has been particularly notable. For example, a recurring television soap opera can be used to convey information about HIV/AIDS prevention. A number of these “entertainment education” campaigns have been especially effective vehicles for persuasion. (For a useful overview, see Singhal et al. 2004.)

In addition to research and theorizing focused on specific contexts of persuasion (e.g., political advertising or changing health behavior), a number of more general theoretical perspectives on persuasion have been developed (for broad treatments of such work, see Dillard & Pfau 2002; O’Keefe 2002; Perloff 2003). Among the more prominent and promising are the elaboration likelihood model (ELM), social judgment theory, and transportation theory. And persuasion has also been illuminated by the application of general models of psychological processes such as cognitive dissonance theory (often invoked to explain selective exposure to messages) and the theories of planned behavior and reasoned action (two related approaches to understanding the bases of voluntary action).


  1. Dillard, J. P., & Pfau, M. (eds.) (2002). The persuasion handbook: Developments in theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Glynn, C. J., Herbst, S., O’Keefe, G. J., & Shapiro, R. Y. (1999). Public opinion. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  3. Hornik, R. C. (ed.) (2002). Public health communication: Evidence for behavior change. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  4. Kardes, F. R., Herr, P. M., & Nantel, J. (eds.) (2005). Applying social cognition to consumer-focused strategy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  5. Mutz, D. C., Sniderman, P. M., & Brody, R. A. (eds.) (1996). Political persuasion and attitude change. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  6. O’Keefe, D. J. (2002). Persuasion: Theory and research, 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  7. Perloff, R. M. (2003). The dynamics of persuasion, 2nd edn. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  8. Rice, R. E., & Atkin, C. K. (eds.) (2001). Public communication campaigns, 3rd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  9. Singhal, A., Cody, M. J., Rogers, E. M., & Sabido, M. (eds.) (2004). Entertainment-education and social change: History, research, and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  10. Wallack, L., Woodruff, K., Dorfman, L., & Diaz, I. (1999). News for a change: An advocate’s guide to working with the media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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