What Is the Hierarchy-of-Effects Theory and Its Stages?

The hierarchy-of-effects theory is a model of how advertising influences a consumer's decision to purchase or not purchase a product or service. The hierarchy represents the progression of learning and decision-making consumer experiences as a result of advertising. A hierarchy-of-effects model is used to set up a structured series of advertising message objectives for a particular product, to build upon each successive objective until a sale is ultimately made. The objectives of a campaign are (in order of delivery): awareness, knowledge, liking, preference, conviction, and purchase.

Breaking Down Hierarchy-Of-Effects Theory

The hierarchy-of-effects theory is an advanced advertising strategy in that it approaches the sale of a good through well-developed, persuasive advertising messages designed to build brand awareness over time. While an immediate purchase would be preferred, companies using this strategy expect consumers to need a longer decision-making process. The goal of advertisers is to guide a potential customer through all six stages of the hierarchy.

The behaviors associated with the hierarchy-of-effects theory can be boiled down to "think," "feel," and "do," or cognitive, affective and conative behaviors. The hierarchy-of-effects model was created by Robert J. Lavidge and Gary A. Steiner in their 1961 article A Model for Predictive Measurements of Advertising Effectiveness.

Hierarchy-Of-Effects Theory Stages

  • The awareness and knowledge (or cognitive) stages are when a consumer is informed about a product or service, and how they process the information they have been given. For advertisers, it is essential to key brand information in this stage in a useful and easily understood fashion that compels the prospective customer to learn more and make a connection with a product.
  • The liking and preference (or affective) stages are when customers form feelings about a brand, so it is not a time when an advertiser should focus on a product, its positive attributes or technical abilities. Instead, advertisers should attempt to appeal to a consumer's values, emotions, self-esteem, or lifestyle.
  • The conviction and purchase (or conative) stages focuses on actions. It is when an advertiser attempts to compel a potential customer to act on the information they have learned and emotional connection they have formed with a brand by completing a purchase. It may involve the conversion of doubts about a product or service into an action. In these stages, advertisers should attempt to convince potential customers that they need a product or service, possibly by offering a test drive or sample item. Advertisers should also build a level of trust with them by focusing on the quality, usefulness, and popularity of a product or service.
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  1. Journal of Marketing. "A Model for Predictive Measurements of Advertising Effectiveness." Accessed Jan. 29, 2021.