Information on Advertising May Cause Behavior


Information on Advertising May Cause Behavior

Information, in a broad sense, is structured, processed and organised information. It gives context to various data and helps decision making in many ways. For instance, a single customer’s sale at a particular restaurant is information-this becomes information the business can utilise to improve its services. However, it can also be used unwisely, which may cost the company money. An example of information that may be exploited wrongly is the price list for the restaurant.

As suggested by Chalmers Johnson, the ‘principle of cause and effect’ can be seen to support the use of information theory in organisations today. According to the principle of cause and effect, if one event affects another, then there must have been a prior causal input affecting the first event. This, according to Johnson, ‘puts an amount of pressure on the researcher to find an explanation for the effect’, thus resulting in the generation of ‘illusory results’ which are not robust enough to support any conclusions about causation. In other words, given the abundance of information that the human mind can process, it is not surprising that it can often be hit by the same cognitive biases that it uses to solve problems-namely, finding a link between the two and drawing a conclusion.

One example that Johnson highlights is research involving cash. One study showed that salespeople were much more likely to give extra items to the checkout customer with a large bill. But this was counter-balanced by finding that salespeople were not likely to pass on an increase in bill size to a customer who came in with a smaller bill. The study therefore concluded that people were using information theory correctly: the increase in bill size caused the increase in expenditure; hence, the effect was the same as a decrease in sales. Johnson therefore concludes that one of the major limitations of information theory is that it relies on sampling, which he says is largely invalid because it depends on the reliability of the information source.

Another limitation of the theory is that it can easily be gamed. Given two different sets of data, one showing an effect and one not, researchers can simply choose which set they wish to focus on, eliminating the other. For instance, if a research subject comes in with a lower income and is told that his income will be raised, the researcher can simply choose to look at the group with the higher incomes. As Johnson points out, this ‘cherry-pick’ approach may have a number of disadvantages, namely that it could produce a spurious result and provide inconsistent evidence for a claim to be true. Furthermore, given that research findings are influenced by factors such as the access to relevant information and the credibility of the research source, the manipulation of variables during a study can have serious consequences.

Another problem is that information is difficult to control. Information that would affect a decision to buy is very difficult to control and so researchers cannot ensure that information they collect would actually change someone’s decision to buy. It is therefore hard to know whether information has an effect and therefore hard to prove that information has an effect. Asking people to recall information that they might have forgotten is nearly impossible. Asking people to do things like drive cars without using their brains or complete a questionnaire without being fully aware of the instructions is asking for trouble.

One major problem with the cognitive theories of advertising is that it is often considered as though information causes behaviour. However, one of the biggest limitations of the theory is that it only looks at one aspect of a person’s decision making process. A person’s thought processes are just as important as their decisions and therefore it is likely that much of what causes a person to make a particular decision is nothing other than how they think. As such, the theories may apply in situations where people only base their decisions on information but do not have a conscious control over what information they absorb. In these instances, it is more likely that the information they absorb enters their subconscious mind and causes them to behave in ways that are contrary to their initial intentions.