At a very basic level, cognitive dissonance is all about inconsistency. Marketers, advertisers and PR pros constantly use this marketing technique to persuade consumers behaviour and beliefs. We are all experienced this phenomenon of cognitive dissonance in everyday life but we may not have recognised it. Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person’s belief and behaviour conflict with each other. This theory explains why people change their behaviour and attitudes when it comes to decision making. Human beings as a social animal enjoy leading a normal and stable life. But when they exposed to conflicting cognition people react in different ways and turned to be distressed. This social behaviour is called cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance was first introduced as a social psychology theory by Leon Festinger in the year 1957. According to cognitive dissonance, if a person holds two beliefs that are relevant to each other but are inconsistent, dissonance will rise. Dissonance happens through human interactions and socialising including the TV advertisements, media narratives, digital video contents and other social media contents you scroll down every day, all of these factors play a substantial role to provoke this effect.
This theory plays a very important role in the field of communications and public relations. Public relations is all about persuading the audience to generate interest in a particular brand. PR professionals are the brand custodians of a brand who is responsible for the goodwill and reputation of a brand. When they run a campaign, ultimately they try to sway the behaviour of a target group, usually by presenting information to move people to their side. This generates a cognitive mindset of beliefs in them which is contradictory to their existing beliefs and behaviour. The success of this theory in public relations mainly depends on how well a PR professional can persuade the mindset of a group of people on a primary level.
“Persuasive communication is at the heart of public relations,” says Terence Flynn, PhD, in an institute of public relations article. PR pros use cognitive dissonance to tweak the behavioural decisions and beliefs of people by presenting information through effective storytelling.
They try to paint a new picture by articulating a new narrative about your life. Every individual has an idealistic version of life ingrained in their mind and this develops cognitive dissonance or contradictory attitudes, forcing to sway the current lifestyle to adorn the idealistic one. It is a tool that all the marketers and advertisers use whenever they promote their products. Their major goal is to make a constant change in your behaviour to support and believe in their product.
But ads and PR not always use this theory to manipulate people’s behaviour, they also use it for good cause. We can use cognitive dissonance to popularise a good cause and influence people to consider belief as part of their lifestyle. Think cigarette brands and their ads from the 1960s and 1970s that continued to portray smoking as glamorous even after medical science revealed it as harmful and dangerous to health. Also, the PR campaigns have rebranded recycling as “cool”. Using cognitive dissonance as social psychology in the realm of PR can nudge people into positive behaviour.
This blog post originally appeared on Vani Krishna’s blog: vaanikrishna.wordpress.com
Vani is a part of the Class of 2021 of PG Programme in PR and Corporate Communications at SCoRe Mumbai. She pursued her bachelor’s degree from Mangalore University. She is passionate about Sports and Arts. She has done an internship in a Kerala based PR firm Davidson PR & Communications, and with the Department of Information and Public Relations- (I&PRD) Kerala Government. She can be reached at @VK_thefernweh on Twitter, and as Vani Krishna on LinkedIn.