Media Effect Theories

Media Effect Theories
3 Types: Strong Effect, Limited Effect, Varying Effect.

Strong Effect:
1. Hypodermic Needle / Magic Bullet Model
2. Cultivation Theory 
Limited Effect:
3. Two-Step Flow / Multi-Step Flow Model
4. Selectivity Theory 
Varying Effect:
5. Agenda Setting Theory
6. Media Determinism Theory
7. Uses And Gratifications Theory

Media effect study is a relatively young field. Media scholars don’t have a unified theory that will explain mass communication effects. Each theory only attempts to explain only particular aspects. As media evolves, there is room for new theories and more scientific research on how far existing theories can be applied to new media.

1. Hypodermic Needle / Magic Bullet Model
Consumers are strongly affected by media, and have no say in how media influences them. 
Suggests that the mass media could influence a large group of people directly by ‘shooting’ or ‘injecting’ them with messages designed to trigger a desired response. 
Images of a ‘bullet’ and ‘needle’ suggest a powerful and direct flow of information from sender to receiver. 
Message is wholly accepted by audience, assumes audience is passive. 
Response to stimuli is uniform, assumes audience is homogeneous.

Case Study: Orson Wells: 1-hour radio broadcast “War of the Worlds” in 1938 – causing mass hysteria.

Hypodermic Needle / Magic Bullet model still applicable today, in closed media economies (eg: North Korea), or in times of uncertainty (eg: Natural disaster strikes, Miners trapped by cave-in).

Implication: Marketers should use Media channels responsibly and ethically.

2. Cultivation Theory
Exposure to media (television), over time, subtly influences audiences’ perceptions of reality. 
George Gerbner studied long-term effects of TV on audiences, particularly TV violence. 
3 categories of TV viewers:
Light: Less than 2 hours daily
Medium: 2 – 4 hours daily
Heavy: More than 4 hours daily 
Heavy viewers tend to hold opinions similar to those portrayed on television. Example: People who watch a lot of crime thrillers expect more crimes in the real world.

These effects are small, gradual, and indirect. But over time, subtly influences TV viewers’ sense of reality. 
Audiences are influenced to have similar opinions – Mainstreaming
These opinions are reinforced if TV representations coincided with reality – Resonance 
Example: TV characters are portrayed having pre-marital sex. Viewer then discovers friends having pre-marital sex (Resonance). Therefore, viewer is led to believe that pre-marital sex is ok, or common (Mainstreaming).

Cultivation Theory demonstrated the compound effect of media influence – TV had formed a symbolic environment to bound diverse communities together, socializing people in to standardized roles and behaviors. Power of Television is similar to Power of Religion.

Implication: TV is considered the most effective medium available to Marketers. Sufficient exposure time must be given for messages. Portrayal of certain characteristics could lead to desired buying behaviour.

Which Medium Is Most Powerful For Marketers?
Comparison between TV, Newspapers, Radio and Online Banner Ads. 
Ads reach audience without requiring any action from them
TVC is more expensive and takes longer to produce
Can target those who aren’t literate
Limited length of exposure, most ads only 30 seconds
Greater ability to convey message with sight, sound and motion
Limited amount of information conveyed

Fast and easy to produce
Words aren’t as engaging as moving visuals
Can include detailed information
Sometimes, demonstrations are easier (show rather than tell)
Audience can re-read information

Audience is more engaged

More educated audience suggest higher disposable income

Ads reach audience without requiring any action from them
Audience may be disengaged (Multi-task)
Ads reach audience even if they’re busy (Multi-task)
Ads may have to be repeated
Good platform for catchy commercial jingles

Online Banner Ads
Fast and easy to produce
Not mass market yet
May be interactive – Click here!
May not reach older generation  
Can spread to other netizens quickly and globally
Lack of intrusiveness – easy to ignore
Easy to track conversion, measure ROI and earn money – pay per click
Accessibility – incompatible software or long download time

Less gatekeeping means less credibility

Audience Fragmentation
Division of Audience into increasingly smaller groups due to wider spectrum of media choices. 
“Mass” media is getting increasingly specialized and niche – Cable TV channels and Internet. 
Problem – Marketers reaching out to mass audiences now have to consider more media channels to reach the same number of people. 
Opportunity – More targeted reach in dedicated cable TV channels and free innovative publicity through social media. 

Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan (Minister for Community, Development, Youth and Sports), 7th Annual PR Academy Conference 2008: “The communications industry is sitting up because audience fragmentation – from ‘catch-all’ broadcasting to ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ narrowcasting – changes some rules of the game.” 
New attributes that need to be considered for the new media landscape:
  1. Presentations have to be short.
  2. Use images and music to engage at an emotional and visceral level.
  3. Content had to be customized to suit the tastes of specific subgroups and stakeholders.
  4. Most effective distribution of a message is virally, through peers word-of-mouth.

3. Two-Step Flow / Multi-Step Flow Model
Katz and Lazarsfeld’s (1940) study of political communications. Media doesn’t always alter attitudes and behaviors, instead, social relationships have a strong influence. 

Information moves in 2 distinct stages: From mass media to opinion leaders, then to a wider population. (Indirect flow) 
Opinion leaders pay close attention to the media, then pass on their own interpretations in addition to the actual media content. They influence others to change their attitudes and behavior. 
Opinion leaders could be: Friends, family, colleagues, club members, celebrities, politicians, etc. Opinion leaders tend to have higher education, social interaction, risk appetite or social status.

Limitations of Two-Step Flow Model:
- Places too much weight on social relationships, people sometimes do absorb information directly from the media.
- Not all opinion leaders pay attention to the media, they could be experts in their own field.
- People aren’t merely opinion leaders and passive followers. Thus, this led to the Multi-Step Flow Model.

In the Multi-Step Flow Model, communication flow is flexible and takes place:
- Vertically (Leaders to Followers)
- Horizontally (Followers to Followers, Leaders to Leaders)
- Direct and Indirect (Linking people through a 3rd party)
- Downward (Leaders to Followers, Media to Public)
- Upward (Leaders to Media)

Implication: Word-Of-Mouth Advertising is the most effective publicity, so Marketers need to focus on opinion leaders, eg: Pay Jamie Oliver to shop at Sainsbury supermarket.

4. Selectivity Theory
People choose media based on their own personal bias. “Only hear the good stuff”. 
Thus, media along cannot play a solo role in changing attitudes and behaviors.

Selective Exposure Theory:
People prefer exposure to arguments that support their position over those supporting other positions. People don’t want to be told they are wrong, so they select media outlets that agree with them. 

When they do seek out opposing points-of-view, they often don’t do so with an open mind. Rather, they do so for the purpose of gathering information so they can refute it later. 
Therefore, media content reinforces individual disposition and is chosen based on its congruence with existing beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

Selective Perception Theory:
People interpret facts to suit their existing biases, beliefs, attitudes and motives. Thus, the same information carries different meaning for different people.

Selective Attention Theory:
People select which messages they want to pay attention to.

Selective Retention Theory:
People remember messages that support their opinions, or are more meaningful or important to them. Opposing messages are unconsciously forgotten or set aside.

Implication: Marketers need to craft messages that are easily available, stand-out, consistent with the beliefs and attitudes of consumers and help consumers remember them.

5. Agenda Setting Theory
The media tells people what to think about – Sets the Agenda for public discussions. 
Although different people may feel differently about an issue, they still feel the same issue is important. Eg: Education, Politics, etc. 
Thus, Media Agenda transfers to Public Agenda, and sometimes, eventually to Policy Agenda.

Media agenda are issues discussed in the media. The media gatekeepers filter reality and decide what to focus on. Public agenda are issues discussed by members of the public. Policy agenda are issues that policy makers consider important. 

Exposure to a topic increases its salience / importance through 3 dimensions:
1. Attention: Amount of coverage
2. Prominence: Credibility of media outlet and interviewees
3. Valence: Affective elements – Trigger Words (Suicide, Raped, Strip, Beauty, etc.), Sensational Bold Headlines (She’s rated X)

Case Study: NKF Saga 
Media: In 2005, T.T. Durai sued SPH and his misuse of donations surfaced. 
Public: Outrage over his extravagance and dishonesty. Other Charities declared their transparency of donation usage. 
Policy: MOH replaced NKF management. In 2006, the Commissioner of Charities was tasked to check for abuse.

Implication: News Media has a large influence on consumers by their choice of what stories are newsworthy enough to be featured, and how much attention and space given to them. It is important for Marketers to have access and good relations with media gatekeepers to get messages out.

Media Relations Guidelines
3 Roles: Reactive, Proactive, Interactive.

Reactive Guidelines: During a Crisis
  • Avoid immediate contact and remarks
  • Don’t badmouth competitors or speculate on blame
  • Keep files of issues likely to get attention
  • Understand deadlines and stick to them
  • Always be contactable
  • Think from a reporter’s perspective
  • Provide balance, or know where to get it
  • Know relevant background information
  • Keep records of contact with Media
  • Never Lie
  • Focus on Human Element, then Environmental Impact, never on how it affect business profits

Proactive Guidelines: Promote the Organization / Brand
  • Know what message you want to deliver
  • Make message clear, concise and straightforward
  • Prioritize media options
  • Address your contact / the editor by name
  • Offer an exclusive, and deliver on it
  • Emphasize why your message is newsworthy
  • Advise journalists how to package the story
  • Provide useful additional materials – Press Release, Media Kit, Photographs, etc.

Interactive Guidelines: Develop a relationship with the Press
  • Discuss issues other than your news
  • Be a source, comment as an expert
  • Converse in depth on news topics or trends
  • Look for non-news reasons to interact
  • Don’t ask for favors, make suggestions

6. Media Determinism Theory
Marshall McLuhan proposed that a person’s choice of media channel determines their lifestyle. The physical properties of the medium / media channel make a difference, rather than the message. “The Medium is the Message”.

Advances in media technology can cause social change – how society thinks, feels, acts. 
Radio led to a greater appreciation of music and sounds. 
TV led to people becoming passive spectators and tunnel vision. 
Cell phones led to expectations for instant, around-the-clock connectivity to others.

Limitations of Media Determinism Theory:
- Too simplistic and rigid
- Ignores other audience influence factors – Messages do matter
- The process of change that media technology exerts on society is unclear

Implication: Marketers need to adapt and use new media technologies. Consumers who choose a certain media channel will likely share similar characteristics, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors with other consumers of the same media channel.

7. Uses And Gratifications Theory
Katz and Blumler’s theory of uses and gratifications asks “What People do with Media”, rather than “What Media do to People”. 
Gratification is the pleasurable emotional reaction of happiness in response to a fulfillments of a desire or the attainment of a goal.

Audiences aren’t passive, they actively interpret and integrate media into their lives. They have many media choices, and are responsible for choosing which media meets their needs. This theory suggests that people use the media to fulfill specific gratifications.

Media compete against other information sources for Audience attention. It assumes an active audience.
- We choose what to use, and if we want to use it or not
- We chose what content to view / hear / read
- We decide how to interpret the content
- We decide how to respond

Implication: Attention is earned, not given. Cost of usage of media shouldn’t be prohibitive. Medium has to be user-friendly, and give audience enough autonomy. The greater these attributes, the greater the gratification. Thus, Marketers have to utilize new media and social media to engage consumers.