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Under the influence

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To influence someone is to cause a change in their attitudes or behaviours.

Influence is the core business of marketing, whether you are looking at the latest behavioural approaches, which hold that we need to influence at the behavioural level first before we can  change attitudes, or more traditional approaches which focus on influencing attitudes to flow down into behaviours.Over the past 50 years and more, there has been a concerted effort from academics and marketers to understand the role of media in influencing consumers1.

These theories began as one-way “broadcast” theories of mass influence, and more recently have focused on two-way theories where consumers act as creators, interpreters and sharers of media influence – not just passive recipients.

This two-way nature of media influence is certainly apparent in newspaper media, where content is now both added to and amplified by readers. For example, we see that many news articles receive hundreds of comments and thousands of shares and re-shares.

More broadly, there are at least four pathways for media influence which have been featured most prominently in academic research. Each pathway is built on providing insights and ideas for consumers.


Why does media influence happen?

Underpinning these four pathways, we need to ask why some media are influential? According to the “father of influence research”, Robert Cialdini, influence from any source relies on factors including authority and salience2. Therefore, when it comes to marketing, the most influential media are the most trusted and the highest reaching.

The pillars of influence

We wanted to combine trust and reach with the four influence pathways to suggest a unified approach to media influence for marketers. Based on analysis of available research, we propose a model to understand how audiences are influenced by media in general, and specifically by newspaper media.


Consumers turn to newspaper media to understand the issues of the day. The large number of journalists and photographers on staff at newspaper media companies, many of them experts in their field, are on hand to report on and give context to the main stories.

The agenda-setting theory3 of media influence reveals how newspaper media shine a spotlight on what’s important and relates it to our lives; in other words, what it means for me.

As well as reacting to global and local events, we trust newspaper media to offer proactive insights into important areas of our lives – everything from finance to new trends in travel and food.

For marketers, this presents the opportunity to connect your brand to important aspects of consumers’ lives, and to tell the backstory of your brand and why it’s important. In newspaper media, people are interested in the detail, especially if it’s cleverly written (read: insightful) or emotional4.


Media dependency theory5 shows how people depend on the media to help them meet their goals and needs. In particular, this approach focuses on helping people act meaningfully and effectively in their world.

The core function of newspaper media in this area is to present each of us with scores of interesting new ideas every day: from the news, to the different sections (health, money, travel, real estate and so on) and include advertising, which is an integral part of the experience.


In order to influence people, you need to have what Cialdini, calls “authority”2. One of the best measures of this in media is how much people trust your content and your advertising.

We know from Nielsen’s 2013 Global Trust report that newspaper media ads have the highest level of consumer trust of any paid medium, at 58%6.

As a whole, it’s easy to see why people trust newspaper media the most – the editorial teams have strict codes of conduct, professional training, a desire to be objective, and a body to resolve reader complaints – the Australian Press Council.


Newspaper media directly reach 16.4 million Australians every month across print and digital platforms. What’s more, they indirectly reach Australians via setting the news agenda for other media. It’s highly likely that the stories you see in other media, from TV to Twitter8 and everything in between, originated in a newspaper.


Tell Me the Story

From a marketer’s perspective, this thinking around influence has some clear implications.

“Storytelling” has become a big theme in marketing.

The idea of telling a compelling and emotional story using insights and ideas about their world is one where marketers can excel in newspaper media.

The long copy ad can be incredibly powerful4. In a Canadian study, consumers rated newspapers as the medium where they most value the advertising as part of the experience7.

Show me how I can use your product in my life. Relating your product or idea to consumers’ lives is easily done when there are so many relevant environments in newspaper media. Showing how your product meets their needs and goals can be achieved through “how-to” advertising and content.

Leverage the trust. Consumer trust in their newspaper of choice is high. Marketers can leverage this trust if they tailor their approach to the different attitudes and behaviours of different newspaper readers. Trust can be built quickest through a partnership approach with the newspaper in question to fit its editorial approach.

Amplify your influence. With 93 per cent of Australians aged 14+ being reached by newspaper media each month, there is the opportunity to achieve influence on a massive scale. By selecting a range of metro, local and regional newspaper media marketers can create an influential campaign in the environments where consumers are truly engaged.


  1.  The Evolution of Media Effects Theory: A Six-Stage Model of Cumulative Research. Neuman & Gugenheim.
  2. Influence by Robert Cialdini
  3. Agenda Setting Theory, see for example Wikipedia
  4. Insights into Long Copy ads. Thenewspaperworks.com.au
  5. Media System Dependency Theory. Commucationtheory.org (UNSW).
  6. Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages Report, Sept 2013.
  7. Canadian Newspaper Association, quoted on newsmediaworks.com.au
  8. News Whip, Aug 2013, quoted on newsmediaworks.com.au
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