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The Hierarchy of Communication Effects: A Guide for Making Your Ads Work

by Allen Weiss  |  
January 1, 2001

Often when we think of advertising, we just think of great ads that make us laugh or engage us in some manner. We tend to judge ads by these simple criteria.

However, a far more powerful way to look at advertising is by understanding that advertising is a communication task, and therefore we need to understand how communication works.

Without going into the long history of communication, we will instead look at one simple but powerful way of viewing the communication process (in fact, there are several different communication process models). This process has several names, but is often referred to as the Hierarchy of Effects Model of the communication process.


Think of the several mental steps through which a product or brand must traverse in a consumer's mind before it gains acceptance.

In the first step, the brand must capture their attention. In a cluttered world or media context, this is difficult to do. You can read a excellent tutorial on all the issues involved in capturing attention.

In the second step, consumers must become aware of the brand. This isn't as straightforward as it seems. Capturing someone's attention doesn't mean they will notice the brand name. Thus, the brand name needs to be made focal to get consumers to become aware. Go through a magazine and you'll see lots of ads that will capture your attention, but you'll have trouble easily seeing the brand name.

The third step involves creating brand knowledge. This is where comprehension of the brand name and what it stands for become important. What are the brand's specific appeals, its benefits? In what way is it different than competitor's brands? Who is the target market? These are the types of questions that must be answered if consumers are to achieve the step of brand knowledge.

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Allen Weiss is the founder and publisher of He can be reached at

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