Smith Brain Trust / March 3, 2019

How Do You Win Over a Tough Audience?

Women Leading Research 2019: Amna Kirmani

How Do You Win Over a Tough Audience?

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Reluctant consumers have three main ways to resist persuasive advertising. They can avoid it, contest it or look within themselves for empowerment.

Research from Amna Kirmani at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business shows the effectiveness of each method, which is bad news for marketers who want to make a sell. But Krimani and her co-authors also flip the script, providing countermeasures to overcome each defense.

“We examine tactics that can be used by advertisers to neutralize these three types of resistance strategies,” they write in the International Journal of Advertising.

When advertisers encounter resistance, the authors suggest moving away from traditional “alpha” campaigns that rely on devices like humor, celebrity appeal and music to make a message more attractive. Instead, they recommend an “omega” approach.

“These strategies explicitly focus on reducing avoidance forces, in other words: decreasing the motivation to move away from the attitudinal object,” the authors write.

They argue that omega strategies work best when tailored to specific types of resistance, which they frame as an “ACE typology.” The acronym stands for Avoiding, Contesting and Empowering.


Advertising avoidance is the most direct way to resist a call to action. Consumers can leave the room during television commercials, unsubscribe from spam, turn down the volume on the radio or simply look away from online banner ads.

They can also use cognitive avoidance, which means not paying attention to specific advertising. This may happen consciously and unconsciously.

“Avoidance-type resistance strategies are perhaps the most difficult to counter, because the avoidance behavior itself cuts off the possibility of communication,” the authors write.

Countermeasures include forced exposure, such as YouTube ads that play before video watchers can access desired content. Television channels can also use horizontal advertising blocks that broadcast advertisements simultaneously with the desired content.

A more subtle countermeasure involves disguise, so consumers don’t realize they are seeing an ad. Examples include product placements in movies, video games and television shows.

“Marketers may also counter avoidance by enlisting consumers to share brand-related messages with others,” the authors write. “Consumers may share brand-related information via online or offline word of mouth, which can be stimulated through word-of-mouth marketing programs.”


Contesting strategies also work to resist advertising. Consumers do this when they actively refute ads by challenging their claims.

“An ad can be countered by considering different characteristics of the ad,” the authors write. “This might include the advertising message itself, the source of the ad or the persuasive tactics used in the ad.”

Countermeasures include two-sided advertising, cognitive depletion and safety cues.

A two-sided ad includes both positive and negative elements. “When people are also exposed to negative features of a product or service, they are less likely to come up with counter-arguments themselves,” the authors write.

Cognitive depletion involves slipping in the persuasive message at the end of a series of messages, giving consumers less opportunity to argue. Saving the pitch for the end also catches consumers when they are “mentally depleted,” which weakens their ability to resist advertising. 

Safety cues include warranties, money-back guarantees and payment deferral schemes that reduce consumer risk.


The third defensive strategy is empowerment. The authors describe three variations of this strategy: Attitude bolstering, social validation and self-assertion.

“Consumers who engage in attitude bolstering focus on defending their existing attitudes and behaviours rather than refuting or challenging a message,” they write.

Social validation involves finding safety in numbers — or looking for others who confirm an existing attitude or behavior. Self-assertion involves looking inward. “People remind themselves that they are confident about their attitudes and behaviors, and that nothing can be done to change these,” the authors write.

To neutralize empowerment strategies, advertisers must focus on the consumer rather than the message.

“People who are self-affirmed are actually more open to persuasive messages, suggesting that self-affirmation may also be used to enhance rather than reduce persuasion,” the authors write.

Empowered individuals also respond to freedom. One option is to let consumers decide which ads they want to watch.

“Resistance-neutralizing tactics should be more effective when they are tailored to the specific resistance strategy that is adopted by consumers,” the authors conclude.

Read more: Fransen, Marieke L, Peeter W.J. Verlegh, Amna Kirmani and Edith G. Smit (2015), A Typology of Consumer Strategies for Resisting Advertising, and a Review of Mechanisms for Countering Them, International Journal of Advertising, 34 (1), 6-16. (Won 2015 Best Paper Award)

Amna Kirmani is Ralph J. Tyser Professor of Marketing and an Editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. 

Research Interests: Morality, persuasion knowledge, behavioral signaling and branding. In terms of morality, she is interested in examining how thinking and acting in the marketplace make us behave less morally.

Selected Accomplishments: Papers have won the Paul Green Award in the Journal of Marketing Research, the Maynard Award in the Journal of Marketing, the Best Paper Award in the Journal of Advertising and the International Journal of Advertising, and Article of the Year at AMA TechSIG.

About this series: Maryland Smith celebrates Women Leading Research during Women’s History Month. The initiative is organized in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Other Women's History Month activities include the eighth annual Women Leading Women forum on March 5, 2019.

Other fearless ideas from: Rajshree Agarwal | Ritu Agarwal | T. Leigh Anenson | Kathryn M. Bartol | Christine Beckman | Margrét Bjarnadóttir | M. Cecilia Bustamante | Jessica M. Clark | Rellie Derfler-Rozin | Waverly Ding | Wedad J. Elmaghraby | Rosellina Ferraro | Rebecca Hann | Amna Kirmani | Hanna Lee | Hui Liao | Jennifer Carson Marr | Wendy W. Moe | Courtney Paulson | Louiqa Raschid | Rebecca Ratner | Rachelle Sampson | Debra L. Shapiro | M. Susan Taylor | Niratcha (Grace) Tungtisanont | Vijaya Venkataramani | Janet Wagner | Yajin Wang | Liu Yang | Jie Zhang | Lingling Zhang



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