The Peripheral Route to developing attitudes

Fishbein’s view of how consumers develop attitudes has been described as a theory of reasoned action. This is because the models are belief based. That is, the models assume that consumers will, in a very conscious and deliberate fashion, first develop beliefs about individual attributes of an object and then carefully combine these beliefs to forge an overall attitude about the object. Notice that the focus here is on conscious attitude development by consumers, with stress on the processing of verbal information in the form of cognitions (thoughts or beliefs about objects such as buying a particular brand). The advertisement for Joy perfume presents one example.

However, other evidence has accumulated to suggest that consumers may develop attitudes through other processes that do not depend on conscious and deliberate thought. A laboratory experiment to test attitude formation regarding facial tissues as an example Separate groups of subjects were shown different advertisements for four fictitious brands of tissues. Three ads contained no verbal information beyond the fictitious name of the facial tissue (identified only by a letter of the alphabet) but did contain a half page color photograph. One ad showed a soft fluffy kitten with the facial tissue box, one used a sunset over an ocean and another showed a presumed neutrally evaluated abstract painting. The fourth ad contained a verbal claim about softness of the tissues but no picture. Study results indicated that subjects formed significantly different impressions of the advertised tissues. Both the kitten and sunset ads created more positive brand attitudes than the verbal message or the picture of the abstract painting did. Also, subjects exposed to the ad showing the soft fluffy kitten rated the facial tissues as significantly more soft than did any of the other groups. Fishbein’s attitude model did not successfully predict these attitude scores of the subjects. Given such results, one implication is that who would employ Fishbein’s belief based model to assess consumers brand attitudes might stand the risk of misrepresenting these attitudes to some degrees.

Why do consumers act in this way? What mechanisms might be involved? A quite popular theory is that might be two routes to attitude development and change, and that each works under different circumstances. These two routes are termed the central ad peripheral routes to processing. In the central route consumers form attitudes in a conscious and deliberate manner as described by Fishbein’s behavioral intentions model. This is sometimes referred to as a systematic strategy. However, as in the case of the facial tissue experiment, the peripheral route enables consumers to form attitudes without engaging in conscious through about how the advertising message describes the object or its attributes.

Rather in this process sometimes called a heuristic processing strategy, consumers form attitudes by associating the object in question with seemingly incidental cues that accompany it. In an advertisement these may be background music, color the spokesperson’s looks behavior or perceived trustworthiness or similar characteristics such as the soft kitten in the experiment. Looking at various magazine ads will reveal that some appear to rely on such a process because they contain so little concrete information about the brand and its characteristics.

One way this process might operate is through classical conditioning. We saw on learning that repeated pairing of a neutral stimulus with one that evokes positive reactions ca lead to the neutral stimulus evoking similar reactions. Therefore classical conditioning would imply that if advertisers repeatedly show their brand associated with stimuli such as fluffy kittens, pleasant music, etc then the positive reactions generated by these stimuli will tend to become associated with the advertised brand. This might then increase consumers’ positive evaluations could account for. The advertisement for Johnson’s baby Sun block SPF is an example that appears capable of accomplishing this.