What is the AIDA model?

The aim of advertising is to encourage consumers to buy or use what your company is offering. According to the AIDA model, a potential customer goes through four phases when deciding whether to buy a product and these correlate to the four phases of the AIDA model. The acronym stands for:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

It therefore marks four objectives of strategic communication measures within the marketing framework.

The development of the AIDA model can be traced back to the American advertising advocate, E. St. Elmo Lewis. In 1898, he formulated the three-part formula; attract attention, maintain interest, create desire. Later, he added a new phase called get action.

Originally developed for structuring sales negotiations, Lewis’ formula was soon applied in all areas of marketing. Even today, AIDA is one of the best-known models of advertising research. The model is an integral part of curricula in schools and universities and is still used as a rule of thumb in the advertising practice for designing web resources and analysing them. Even though the model is well-known, its significance is often disputed.

How does the AIDA model work?

Assuming that brand awareness mostly takes place through advertising and marketing measures, the AIDA model (also known as AIDA formula, AIDA concept, AIDA principle, or AIDA schema) offers explanatory approaches, as to how advertising and other communication policies are involved in the brand selection.

According to the AIDA model, advertisers have to achieve four communication goals to guide potential customers from the stage when they are first aware of a product, and encourage them to make their way to the purchasing stage. The AIDA approach therefore belongs to the group of hierarchical advertising models, based on a linear sequential process of the buying decision process, in which customers go through a series of cognitive and affective stages, which culminate in a purchase.

A – Attract attention

Attention, please! – for an advertising message to be displayed to a potential customer, the advertiser must first attract the target group’s attention. The first phase of the AIDA model is to initiate the activation, perception, and emotional process. To this end, advertising works with various strategies that relate to the content of an advertising message, presentation, or placement.

As a rule, content that attracts attention usually contains new, contradictory, or provocative information:

Only at Tesco: square melons!

Braeburn apples: £1 per kilo!

Which supermarket has the most exciting offer? The reader’s curiosity plays a decisive role here. This can also be fueled by the omission of information.

An attractive layout should ensure that your advertisement has a positive effect on potential customers e.g. by using graphic design elements. An example is a festival poster where the main headliner is emphasised in bold to make it eye catching. The lesser known artists are written in a smaller font underneath. Display advertising gets your attention when it changes, moves, or flashes. You must not overdo it, though, as this can lead to the target group becoming overwhelmed and annoyed by your advertising.

Advertisers make use of auditory elements on TV, radio, or online and are quite subtle with how they achieve it. In almost all ad-supported audiovisual media, short advertisements are played much louder than the actual show. This is to ensure that it catches the viewer’s attention. These ads are often accompanied by catchy jingles or current pop songs.

Some advertisers also revert to old-fashioned methods to lure customers in, for example by using smells so their business is associated with a positive memory. This doesn’t work all the time, but bakeries and confectioners can definitely benefit.

Key stimulus has a specific function in advertising. Certain stimulus patterns are particularly good at catching a person’s attention and awakening their senses. These include, for example, eyes, faces, cute things, and eroticism (hence the phrase 'sex sells'). For example, a potential customer might just click on an ad banner for Bluetooth headphones because they find the model attractive.

I – Maintain interest

Once you’ve attracted a customer’s attention, the next step is to get them interested and sustain this interest. In this phase of the decision-making process, products and brands are presented, their benefits are emphasised, usage scenarios are shown, and the various ways to purchase the product are introduced – in the best case, from the point of view of the customer.

The advertising goal of the second phase of the AIDA model is achieved when the customer starts engaging with the ads and is interested in the products or services that you’re offering. However, unlike during Lewis’ time, advertisers now have so many more possibilities to get the target group’s interest.

Advertisers will get especially far in the second phase of the AIDA model when they know what the target group is interested in, what’s important to them, what needs they have, and what problems they want to have solved. Modern web analysis tools provide online store operators with detailed information about users’ surfing behaviour, enabling them to determine their current status regarding the different phases of the AIDA model or other marketing models – and then react appropriately.

For example, a potential customer, who continues to visit a website and reads up on the information about the battery life of Bluetooth headphones, is probably planning to get some in the near future.

D – Create desire

In the third phase of the AIDA model, the consumer’s general interest develops into a concrete purchasing intent. This is the time to display the models you offer in your online store so that the customer can see what the different options are. Explain how your models are cheaper or look better than the competitor’s model.

In this phase, advertising measures offer information, which emphasises the benefits of their own products and brands against competitors’ products. The aim is to make the target group see the company in a positive light as well as its brands, products, and services.

A – Get action

If advertisers have succeeded in creating a demand for specific products or services for the target group, this should lead to an action in the final phase of the AIDA model, which is that the interested party should ultimately buy the advertised product or use the offered service.

Advertising, which aims to initiate actions, should include a call-to-action. Examples of some classic calls to action are:

Order Bluetooth headphones now!

Simply call for a free quote!

Calls to action are sometimes accompanied by time constraints, which aim to put the potential buyer under pressure so they are more likely to buy.

Bluetooth headphones – bargain price only available today.

Order Bluetooth headphones online now and save 20%.

Limited edition. For a short time only.

If you promise customers security or additional services, it may increase the probability of them making a purchase.

                … order a trial subscription.

                Buy one get one free.

                10 % discount on your first purchase.

                Now with free return delivery.

                Double the data volume with a new contract.

The AIDA model in practice

Models are used in marketing to illustrate processes. The aim is to develop approaches that can be used to optimise processes. Hierarchical advertising models, such as the AIDA formula, show the development that customers experience as part of the purchasing decision-making process. Each phase is characterised by other requirements that must be taken into account when designing advertising campaigns.

Within the AIDA model, ads act as stimuli, which are supposed to start the purchasing decision. It is therefore a stimulus-reaction scheme. Consumers that pass through the stages of the AIDA model, pass through a cognitive stage as well as an affective processing stage. Basically, the purchasing decision-making process can be reduced to three partial steps: cognition (C), affact (A), and behaviour (B), which is referred to as the marketing literature with thinking, feeling, and acting formulas.

The AIDA model looks like an upturned funnel. This illustrates an essential aspect of the hierarchical marketing model. The number of potential customers decreases throughout the purchasing decision process, so that each stage gets smaller. This is known as the purchase funnel.

The purchase funnel shows that only a part of the planned target group can be encouraged by advertisements to take the next step. Advertising that is broadcasted via mass media generally has an enormous reach, but only part of the numerous addressees will be interested in what the advertised company is offering, and even fewer people will be interested enough to actually make a purchase.

In practice, the model gives advertisers a kind of checklist, which can be used to analyse and optimise communication measures in the context of advertising, sales talks, presentations, and moderation.

This formula is useful for owners of online shops to check whether all aspects of an optimal purchasing decision-making process were considered during the product presentation. Possible questions could be:

  • Is the shop easy to find?
  • Does the shop’s design attract the attention of the target group?
  • Do the product descriptions provide the right information to arouse the interest of potential customers?
  • Do image galleries, product videos, and augmented reality elements give an idea of how your product can enrich a customer’s life?
  • Does the product presentation create a sense of 'desire' for the customer?
  • Does the website contain call-to-action elements that make it possible for prospective buyers to purchase immediately, or are extras included to make the products more attractive i.e. discount, free delivery, etc.
  • Has the ordering process been freed from all obstacles and barriers (unsuitable data collection, limited payment options, less than ideal delivery conditions, etc.?).

The list of possible checking points based on the AIDA formula is therefore not yet exhausted.

Criticism of the AIDA model

Since the development of the AIDA model more than a hundred years ago, the understanding of advertising and marketing communication has changed fundamentally with the digital revolution. Nonetheless, there are hardly any marketing specialist books that don’t mention AIDA.

The secret to success is simplicity. This makes it possible to use this model in many areas of marketing. Basically, single-level communication measures (press advertising, B2C telephone sales) can be better illustrated than multi-level processes used in dialogue-oriented media.

Reducing the decision-making process to a simple stimulus-response scheme is considered outdated. Critics have also pointed out that the decision to buy is based on a variety of other influencing factors, such as availability, pricing, advice, customer satisfaction, and recommendations. The influence of emotional aspects on the perception of the brand is also barely taken into account in the AIDA model.

Since the 1990s, however, emotion research has been recognised in the framework of neuromarketing and delivers important insights for the design, analysis, and optimisation of advertising methods.

The AIDA model should therefore be viewed as what it is: a simplified formula that lays the foundation for systematic consideration of the buying decision-making process after being created by Lewis more than 100 years ago. Over the years, this has been adapted several times, modified, and extended to current circumstances.

AIDA model extensions

A major deficiency of the AIDA model is that the purchase decision process is not considered anymore after it ends i.e. when a customer makes a purchase. All post-purchase effects such as satisfaction, dissatisfaction, customer ratings, and recommendations remain unaffected.

More approaches have been developed based on the AIDA formula and these have extended the basic model by additional phases as well as taking the role of modern, dialogue-oriented media (e.g. social media and online communities) into account. Established models include the hierarchy of effects model, the DAGMAR formular, the AIDA model, and AISDALSLove.

The hierarchy of effects model

The hierarchy of effects model, created by Lavidge and Steiner, is also made up of a hierarchical sequence of different advertising effects and breaks the purchasing decision-making process into a total of six stages:

  • Awareness: in the first phase of the hierarchy of effects model, advertising measures are aimed at making potential customers aware of the advertised products.
  • Knowledge: the awareness phase is followed by the knowledge phase where the products are better described.
  • Liking: in the third phase, interested parties should start to become fonder of the advertised products. 
  • Preference: in the fourth phase, the customer’s fondness results in a preference for certain products over others.
  • Conviction: the fifth phase is where the decision to purchase takes place. The potential customer has made up their mind and wants to purchase the product.
  • Purchase: the final phase of the hierarchy of effects model includes the intended action: the purchase.

The DAGMAR formula

Based on the AIDA model, the American advertising researcher Russell H. Colley published the so-called DAGMAR formula in 1961. The acronym stands for Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results. DAGMAR is also a hierarchical advertising model, based on the assumption that advertising not only needs economic objectives, but also communicative tasks. These can be divided into six areas.

  • Awareness: advertising must create awareness of the advertised brands and products.
  • Comprehension: advertising must provide the potential customer with an understanding of the features and the benefits of the advertised product or service.
  • Conviction: good advertising has a convincing effect by showing the customer the personal benefits and advantages compared to the alternatives.

Action: the end of the decision-making process is the step where the purchase is made.

The AIDAS model

The AIDAS model adopts the four phases of the AIDA model and extends it with an extra phase: satisfaction. This means that the model doesn’t stop once the purchase has been made, but also continues so the company knows whether the customer is happy with their purchase or not.

  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action
  • Satisfaction

What happens after a consumer becomes a customer? The satisfaction phase takes this exact question into account. Advertising measures do not simply end once there has been an acquisition. An advertiser’s goal is to satisfy customers so that they come back and share positive experiences with others. If a consumer has reached the stage of satisfaction during the purchasing process, it is important to make sure you don’t lose them.

AISDALSLove

The AISDALSLove model by Bambang Sukma Wijaya also emphasises the importance of post-buying effects and expands on the AIDA model with phases such as: search, like/dislike, share, love/hate.

  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Search
  • Desire
  • Action
  • Like/dislike
  • Share
  • Love/hate

With the search phase, Wijaya’s advertising model considers the fact that consumers are now more critically opposed to advertising promises. The internet provides consumers with a comprehensive research tool where they can review facts and compare offers.

The like/dislike phase takes the consumer’s experience into account after they have made their purchase. If the customer is satisfied, this usually shows in their behaviour. The same applies to dissatisfied customers. If the product delivers what it promises, the customer is more likely to buy from the company again and recommend it to their friends and family.

If a customer shares their experiences with other potential customers, this is known as word of mouth. With the internet, social networks, online communities, and rating portals provide consumers with powerful communication channels that can have a significant impact on a company’s reputation. In the AISDALSLove model, whatever happens after the purchase is considered as an independent stage in the share phase.

In addition, the AISDALSLove model assumes that advertising measures can also lead to long-term effects, which in turn lead to positive (love) or negative (hate) feelings towards products, brands, or companies. An aspect that takes centre stage in the love/hate phase.

Comparison of advertising effectiveness models

All hierarchical level models have one thing in common, which is the fact that they adapt the basic structure of the buying decision-making process, which is based on the AIDA model’s basic structure in three levels: thinking (cognition), feeling (affact), and acting (behaviour).

Thinking Attention, awareness, knowledge, understanding, research
Feeling Interest, appreciation, preference, conviction, desire, satisfaction, love...
Acting Buy, share, consume, re-order, recommend

Good advertising should therefore always take these three aspects into account in human behaviour.


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