The Role of Imagery Instructions
in Facilitating Persuasion
in a Consumer Context
Deborah J. MacInnis
University of Southern California
Mental imagery has long been recognized by psychologists as a potent tool to increase learning and memory. Consumer research, on the other hand, has more recently begun to examine the effects of mental imagery on persuasion. While the use of visual stimuli (such as pictures) is a common way to elicit mental imagery, imagery can also be evoked through the use of rich verbal descriptions or through specific verbal instructions to consumers to imagine particular products or situations. Are these techniques effective in persuading consumers? What circumstances determine their effectiveness? Answers to such questions represent the first step toward developing an understanding of the role of verbal stimuli in eliciting mental imagery and thereby enhancing persuasion.
Recent research in consumer behavior has yielded inconsistent effects from the use of verbal instructions to imagine on various persuasion-related outcomes. Nevertheless, given the small number of studies that has examined the issue and the impressive body of evidence from psychology documenting the impact of such imagery instructions on learning and memory (Paivio, 1971), it may be premature to dismiss this technique as relatively ineffective in persuasion. In this chapter, we (a) review extant literature on the effects of imagery instructions on persuasion in a consumer context and (b) make suggestions regarding whether and when imagery instructions might lead to persuasion.
In the section that follows, we introduce the notion of mental imagery and discuss various strategies used to elicit imagery. We focus next on imagery instructions