Effectiveness of Peripheral Cues

What are Peripheral Cues?

Peripheral cues are elements in persuasive communication that are not directly related to the logic or content of the message itself but can nonetheless influence how the message is received and interpreted. They are a key concept in the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion, developed by Richard Petty and John Cacioppo, in the 1980s. The ELM posits that there are two routes to persuasion:

  1. the central route and
  2. the peripheral route.

Central Route:

Involves thoughtful consideration of the arguments (ideas, content) presented in the message. When people are highly motivated and able to process the message, they are more likely to be influenced by the strength and quality of the arguments.

Peripheral Route:

Relies on cues outside of the argument itself. These cues might include the attractiveness or credibility of the speaker, the emotional appeal of the message, or other superficial qualities. People are more likely to be influenced by peripheral cues when they are either not motivated to process the information deeply or lack the ability to do so.

Role in Communication and Marketing

Peripheral cues are particularly significant in marketing and advertising, where the goal often is to persuade with limited consumer attention or interest.

In such scenarios, the ability of an ad to influence through peripheral cues (like an attractive spokesperson, catchy music, or appealing visuals) can be more effective than detailed information about the product itself.

However, it’s important to note that the influence of peripheral cues can be relatively temporary and less likely to lead to a strong, stable change in attitudes compared to changes brought about by the central route of persuasion. This means that while peripheral cues can be effective in the short term, they might not create lasting attitude or behavior changes.

Peripheral cues are vital in marketing primarily due to two factors:

  1. They make advertisements more engaging: With so many brands vying for a consumer’s attention, overt messages can easily be overlooked. Using peripheral cues can give an ad the much-needed ‘X-factor’ that captures consumer interest.
  2. They elicit emotional responses: More often than not, consumers are guided by their emotions, not just fact-based arguments. Positive emotions triggered by peripheral cues can result in positive perceptions of the product or the brand.

Illustration of various marketing elements like music, colors, celebrity endorsements, and emotions to depict the concept of peripheral cues in marketing.

Photo by halacious on Unsplash

Types of Peripheral Cues

Building on the core understanding that peripheral cues in marketing play a pivotal role in advertisements, let’s delve deeper into the different types of peripheral cues. These cues are instrumental in influencing consumer behavior and decision making.

It’s vital to note that these cues don’t sensibly or logically relate to the core message of the product’s features, benefits or attributes. Yet, they prove vital in creating a positive impression of the brand or product.

Attractiveness of the Source

The attractiveness of the spokesperson or model used in advertising acts as a powerful peripheral cue. An attractive endorser can capture attention and develop a positive attitude toward the product.

Think about how many cosmetic brands use attractive actors and models to promote their products. The beauty or attractiveness of these endorsers influences consumers even if, logically, their attractiveness has nothing to do with the product’s quality or effectiveness.

The source’s attractiveness is a major influencer in advertisements. It’s all about creating that association between the appeal of the person endorsing the product and the product itself.

Credibility of the Source

Credibility is another key peripheral cue. If a celebrity or expert who is respected in a particular field endorses a product, it can enhance the product’s credibility.

For instance, many car insurance companies use trustworthy figures in their ads. Even though the celebrity’s trustworthiness does not logically connect to the quality of the car insurance, it still influences consumers.

Trust is an essential factor in the purchase decision. This is where the credibility of the source comes in. If an expert, celebrity, or well-respected individual endorses a product, it adds credibility to the ad, making it more persuasive.

Music and Jingles

Advertisers also leverage enjoyable music and catchy jingles as peripheral cues. These cues can elicit positive emotions, creating an associative link between these positive feelings and the advertised product.

A classic example is McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle – it doesn’t convey information about the food, but it adds to the overall positive perception of the brand.

Price-related Cues

Price-related cues such as discounts, sales, or exclusive offers can drive the perception of value and generate immediate consumer interest. Although these cues do not directly relate to the brand or product attributes, they serve to encourage purchase behavior by enhancing perceived value.

Advertisers often display prices in larger or bolder fonts or use phrases like “only,” “just,” or “sale” to make potential buyers perceive that they are getting a good deal. Emphasizing discounts, deals, or freebies can also create a significant impact.

Quantity of Arguments

Sometimes, marketers use a large number of arguments or reasons to convince consumers. This technique does not focus on the quality of arguments but rather on their quantity. For example, an infomercial may list numerous reasons to buy a kitchen gadget, even if the reasons are not particularly strong or relevant.

Symbolism and Colors

Marketers use symbolism and colors strategically in their campaigns. Different colors elicit different emotional responses, and symbols may carry cultural, personal, or universal significance. For instance, green is often used in advertisements for natural or eco-friendly products, as it represents nature and environment.

Logos or symbols associated with a brand can also serve as powerful peripheral cues. Picture the golden arches for McDonald’s—it instantly evokes a recognition and association with the brand.

Examples of peripheral cues

Celebrity Endorsements in Advertising:

Brands often use celebrities to endorse products. The fame and attractiveness of the celebrity can act as a peripheral cue, making the product more appealing regardless of its actual features.

Professional Dress in Business Settings:

The way professionals dress can influence perceptions of their expertise and trustworthiness. A well-dressed individual might be perceived as more competent, influencing others’ opinions and decisions.

Website Design in E-Commerce:

An aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-navigate website can create a positive impression of the brand, encouraging visitors to stay longer and potentially make a purchase.

Background Music in Stores and Restaurants:

The choice of music can create an ambiance that influences customers’ moods and behaviors, potentially encouraging them to spend more time and money.

Luxurious Packaging of Products:

High-quality, attractive packaging can make a product seem more valuable or desirable, influencing purchase decisions.

Social Media Influencers:

Followers often associate the positive attributes of a social media influencer (like lifestyle, attractiveness, or status) with the products or services they promote.

Attractive Visuals in Advertisements:

Ads that use visually striking images or graphics can capture attention and create a memorable impression, influencing attitudes towards a product or brand.

Use of Statistics or Graphs in Presentations:

The inclusion of graphs and statistics, regardless of their relevance, can make an argument seem more credible or authoritative.

Political Campaigns Using Symbols and Slogans:

Symbols (like flags) and catchy slogans in political campaigns can evoke emotional responses and solidarity, influencing voter attitudes and behaviors.

User Reviews and Testimonials:

Showcasing positive reviews and testimonials prominently can serve as a social proof cue, persuading new customers to trust and try a product or service.


What are peripheral cues in psychology?

Peripheral cues refer to information or stimuli in the environment that are not the primary focus of attention but can still influence our perception, decision-making, and behavior.

How do peripheral cues differ from central cues?

Central cues are the primary or central elements of attention, while peripheral cues are secondary or incidental elements that can still have an impact on our cognition and behavior.

What is the role of peripheral cues in visual perception?

Peripheral cues can guide our visual attention and help us detect relevant information in our peripheral vision. For example, a sudden movement in the periphery might draw our attention.

Can peripheral cues affect our decision-making processes?

Yes, peripheral cues can bias our decision-making processes by influencing our perceptions and preferences, even if we are not consciously aware of them.

What are some examples of peripheral cues in everyday life?

Examples include background music in a store influencing purchase decisions, the appearance of food packaging affecting taste perception, or the presence of attractive images in advertisements.

How do advertisers use peripheral cues to influence consumer behavior?

Advertisers often use visually appealing images, colors, and symbols as peripheral cues to grab attention, create positive associations, and influence consumers to make purchasing decisions.

Do peripheral cues always lead to accurate judgments?

No, peripheral cues can sometimes lead to biased or inaccurate judgments, as they can influence us in ways that are not necessarily rational or objective.

Can peripheral cues be distracting or misleading in some situations?

Yes, peripheral cues can be distracting when they divert our attention from a primary task or misleading when they create false impressions or associations.

Are there individual differences in the susceptibility to peripheral cues?

Yes, individuals vary in their susceptibility to peripheral cues. Factors like personality traits, attentional capacity, and prior experiences can influence how people respond to these cues.

How can researchers study the impact of peripheral cues on human cognition and behavior?

Researchers use various methods, including eye-tracking technology, psychological experiments, and neuroimaging techniques, to investigate how peripheral cues influence perception, attention, and decision-making processes in controlled settings.

Scroll to Top