The Persuasion Knowledge Model

Persuasion Knowledge Model (PKM) is a theory that delves into how consumers perceive and interpret the persuasion tactics used by agents, such as advertisers or marketers, in various persuasive scenarios. PKM encompasses several aspects of the consumer's beliefs, including their thoughts on the effectiveness, suitability, and reliability of the tactics and coping strategies. These factors can influence how consumers respond to persuasion attempts. (Friedstad & Wright, 1994). While numerous persuasion theories exist, the PKM model stands out by emphasizing that consumers possess information and understandings previously overlooked by prevailing theories (Kirmani, 2009). This perspective challenges previous theories that neglected individuals' persuasion knowledge, deeming this knowledge inactive or inconsequential during persuasion episodes, which is unrealistic.

Furthermore, as knowledge continually evolves, persuasion knowledge undergoes changes throughout a person’s life cycle (Nelson, 2015). Starting from age five, individuals develop their understanding of persuasion tactics through experiences such as advertising, social interactions, and conversations. This knowledge continues to evolve until reaching saturation in senior years.

The PKM uniquely perceives market interactions as a strategic game played by both buyers and sellers. It considers that consumers possess intuitive theories about this game and use them to manage marketers' attempts at persuasion. During an interaction, consumers equip themselves with tools to precisely evaluate persuasive messages from marketers, enabling them to decide whether to resist the persuasion attempt (Campbell & Kirmani, 2000). The PKM stands out from other models of persuasion thanks to the perspective of the consumer, which is focused on having knowledge of the persuasion attempt and developing coping processes.

The theory postulates that consumers not only recognize persuasion attempts in messages but also develop beliefs about its fairness and try to maintain control over it. Persuasion attempts depend on three factors: (1) Agent knowledge, (2) Topic knowledge, and (3) Persuasion knowledge. These factors have an impact on the outcome of a persuasion attempt.

Agent knowledge pertains to the consumer’s perceptions and beliefs concerning the persuasion agent, including his traits, abilities, motivations, and goals. Stereotypes can highly influence this knowledge. For example, if consumers know that "car salespeople are pushy" (Sujan, Bettman, & Sujan, 1986), they are likely to be receptive to persuasion as they hold a negative perception of these sellers, influenced by stereotypes. On the other hand, marketers are equipped with target knowledge, which refers to their understanding of their intended audience's preferences, characteristics, and behaviors. This insight allows marketers to tailor their persuasive strategies more effectively and to align their message with the needs of the target in order to lead to a successful persuasive episode.

Topic knowledge refers to the consumer’s familiarity and understanding of the subject matter or topic presented during the persuasive attempt. It encompasses the extent to which individuals have information, some expertise, or prior knowledge related to the content of the persuasive message. Consumers have various levels of topic knowledge depending on the situation and the domain. This knowledge significantly affects how individuals process and respond to persuasive attempts. Individuals with high topic knowledge are more likely to critically evaluate the information accurately and scrutinize any form of misinformation. For example, if a consumer is knowledgeable about a specific product category, such as mobile phones, they may be more discerning and critical when exposed to advertising and persuasive messages about a new phone release. Individuals with limited topic knowledge may rely on surface-level cues, such as how appealing the product is or the emotion it brings them, to form their opinion. The brand image, the persuasive technique, or a celebrity endorsement may influence more individuals with limited knowledge. Especially in social media, consumers may find it challenging to distinguish a celebrity used in a persuasive effort from their typical status updates sharing their lifestyle or aimed at boosting engagement (Jansen et al., 2009).

Persuasion knowledge includes consumers’ awareness of the tools used in persuasive attempts and their ability to recognize various tactics by marketers, salespeople, or brands. This understanding enables individuals to go through the landscape of influence, impacting attitudes and behaviors to prompt product purchases. For instance, someone with persuasion knowledge can easily spot when a brand is trying to build trust with consumers by strategically aiming to enhance sales or promoting an authentic connection with it. This awareness is crucial in the context of a “cute economy” (Meese, 2014), where animals are used in advertising to evoke a sense of warmth (Ganesko, 2005), which can be effective in order to sell a product. Moreover, persuasion knowledge is a domain-based construct where persuasion tactics change from one field to another (Ham et al., 2015). For instance, mystery ads are used in advertising, whereas lowballing is used in sales. This range of persuasion knowledge highlights the adaptative nature of the consumer in various context and their determination to maintain control over persuasion attempts regardless of the circumstances.

The Persuasion Knowledge Model serves as a valuable framework in advertising, providing nuanced insights into the strategic development of persuasion attempts to influence consumers' attitudes toward an ad and their decision-making processes and actions (Mohr & Kohl, 2021). By providing a comprehensive understanding of the factors that encourage or obstruct the persuasion of the consumer (Williams, 2002), the PKM guides the marketing team and brand in tailoring their approaches to achieve optimal impact on consumers’ behavior.


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