ASCoR Research program Persuasive Communication

The research of the Communication Science department at the University of Amsterdam is organized in the Amsterdam School of Communication Research ASCoR. ASCoR hosts the Research Priority Area Communication of the UvA (awarded in 2011). Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam received a top ranking in the 2016 QS World University Rankings by Subject: number 1 in Continental Europa, Number 6 worldwide. There are currently four program groups: Persuasive Communication, Political Communication & Journalism, Corporate Communication, and Youth & Media Entertainment.

The Persuasive Communication program group consists of three chair groups, jointly implementing the Persuasive Communication research program:

  1. Marketing Communication (chaired by Prof. Dr. Peter Neijens)
  2. Persuasive Communication & Empowerment (chaired by Prof. Dr. Edith Smit)
  3. Health Communication (chaired by Prof. Dr. Julia van Weert).

Research program Persuasive Communication 2016-2020

A major challenge for communication professionals and policymakers is to optimally use the potential of communication and media to achieve specific persuasive goals in marketing and health communication, while at the same time empower citizens to make informed decisions.  The Persuasive Communication research group aims at studying factors that explain the development, reach, processing and effects of professional and consumer-generated messages in marketing and health communication. These factors include individual difference, situational, medium, and message factors. We study how people use communication to fulfil their needs in commerce and health, how companies, providers and consumers communicate, and how this influences their attitudes, cognitions and behavior. With the digitization of the media, marketing and health communication are increasingly shifting towards personalization and tailoring. We examine the use and effects of communication strategies that emerge from this shift with a special focus on target audiences at risk. Central in our research is how communication can be used to empower people and to decrease health disparities. Within the increasingly dynamic character of media and communication environments as described in the general part of the ASCoR Research Program 2016-2020, the Persuasive Communication group particularly focuses on the following four research lines.

1. Online media developments
Today’s media are characterized by digitization, interactivity, connectivity, mobility, ubiquity, multitasking and fragmentation. Devices such as smart phones and tablets afford reading, watching and listening and are able to integrate and complement previously separated media activities. A major aim of this research line is to understand what influences the perceptions and the way consumers use digital media, and with what consequences, with a specific focus on the use and effectiveness of personalized communication. Within this line, we study the possibilities and challenges of new interactive digital media and technologies such as augmented reality brand applications and location-based advertising apps that blur the lines between online media and offline life. This also includes the possibilities and challenges of health information and communication technologies, such as mobile health apps (“m-health”), for collecting health data and real-time monitoring of health behavior and outcomes.

2. Consumer empowerment
Communication technology not only increases opportunities of personalized persuasion, but also increasingly disguises the use of personalization tactics, which increasingly blurs the boundary between the private and the public. The above described online techniques make use of personal data that are collected via surfing or search behavior, installed apps and games, social media profiles or are bought via list brokers resulting in targeted messages. Within this research line, we study the implications of the shift towards data-driven personalized communication with the aim to disentangle (hidden) persuasion and resistance mechanisms, to inform users about strategies, and to develop tools to empower consumers.  We investigate to what extent people are informed about persuasion techniques (disclosures), to what extent they are able to resist persuasion, and if so, what role this awareness play. This includes how people respond to personalization tactics, whether they are able to disregard persuasion techniques and to balance the trade-off between more personalized, perhaps more relevant messages, and their online privacy

3. Online and offline interactions
In today’s society, interpersonal and mediated communication increasingly intertwine and interact, thereby blurring boundaries between the online and offline world and making it more dynamic than ever before. Communication does not only involve organizations communicating via various media outlets to the public, but also the way in which citizens communicate about this information amongst each other. Moreover, digital environments such as the Internet, social media and mobile devices produce a trail of data that record, often in great detail, interactions between brands/organizations and consumers/patients. This means an increasingly important role for consumer reviews, (e)Word of Mouth, consumer posts on social media, but also for consumers in (viral) campaigns. It also implies a need for companies and organizations to develop adequate webcare. Next to user-generated interactions via the Internet, social media and social devices, we also study offline and online peer-to-peer, parent-child, teacher-student and patient-provider interactions. We investigate how interpersonal interactions interfere with exposure to health interventions and how this influences health behavior. In addition, we study patient-provider interactions and how online activities, such as online health information seeking and the use of digital tools, affect these interactions during consultations and, consequently, patient outcomes.

4. Communication campaigns and interventions
Theory- and evidence-based campaigns and interventions are more effective in the behavior change process than those that are not. In this research line, we apply communication and behavioral theories to design, evaluate, and implement communication campaigns and interventions, with a special focus on the understanding of the underlying mechanisms. We test message design theories and frameworks to gain insight in which content elements, design elements, behavior change techniques, and modes of delivery work best under which conditions for which target group. A major aim is to optimize information processing and outcomes for groups at risk. Campaigns and interventions may vary from school education or blended learning to educational digital tools or behavior change support tools.

Methodologically, mixed methods are used across all research lines, with methods ranging from lab and field experiments, surveys and qualitative research to (observational) content analysis, eye- tracking, behavioral tracking, and digital analytics.