The AIDA Model and How to Use It

Learn the four steps to success in a marketing campaign

AIDA scene from Glengary Glenn Ross
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One of the founding principles of modern marketing and advertising is known as AIDA. The acronym stands for Attention, Interest, Desire (or Decision), and Action. It's often said that if your marketing or advertising is missing just one of the four AIDA steps, it will fail and it will fail hard. 

No need to take that warning too literally. A branding or awareness campaign does not necessarily need the Action step in that sense of the word. Nevertheless, you need to know about AIDA and use it whenever possible.

AIDA's Origins

American advertising and sales pioneer Elias St. Elmo Lewis, a legend in the industry, coined the phrase and the approach. As far back as 1899, Lewis talked about "catching the eye of the reader to inform him, to make a customer of him." By 1909, that had evolved several times, becoming "attract attention, awaken the interest, persuade and convince." It's not far from the AIDA model now used around the world.

Attention

The "A" is for attention, though sometimes the word awareness is substituted. It simply means that an advertisement must be seen to be effective.

To attract the attention of the consumer, the best approach is called disruption. The consumer is literally startled into paying attention. It can be done in many ways, including:

  • Location: Placing advertising in an unexpected location or situation. This is often called guerrilla or ambient media.
  • Shock factor: Adding something provocative to grab attention. This can be done in many ways, the most common one being sexually provocative imagery.
  • Personalization: Targeting the consumer individually. The novelty of personalized direct mail has long worn off. But imagine reading a newspaper ad and seeing your name in the headline. That might grab you.

Interest

Once you've got the consumer's attention, you have to keep it. This is actually trickier than the first step if your product or service is not inherently fascinating. Think of insurance or banking products.

The best advertising pros get a dry subject across by delivering the information in a way that is entertaining, memorable, or funny. The insurance company Geico does well with its Geico Gecko and Cavemen ads.

Keeping the consumer's interest is a particular challenge in a direct mail campaign. The worst choice is to bore the reader with pages of heavy text. Keep it light, easy to read and break up the information with lively subheads and attractive illustrations.

Desire

Let's assume the advertiser has grabbed the consumer's attention, and kept it. Now, the ad must create desire. The story must become relevant in order to make the product irresistible.

Infomercials actually do this very well, by showing products in dozens of situations. "Sure, it's a nice frying pan, but did you know it can also cook a whole roast chicken and do sides at the same time? And it can make dessert too! Plus, it's easy to clean and takes up no counter space."

A great infomercial keeps layering on the facts until viewers can only be amazed that they've been able to live without the product for so long.

Remember, this part of the AIDA model is sometimes known as decision. Once the desire has been created, the decision is almost made.

Action

If the consumer is still with you at this point, there's just one more step and that is, of course, "closing the sale."

Once again, infomercials do this well, although crudely to say the least. It's the "call to action" or, as they say in infomercials, "an amazing offer." They'll start out with a high price, chop it down again and again until it's a third of the original price, and then give you a two-for-one deal and free shipping. Who could resist?

Marketing doesn't have to be that blatant. It just has to get consumers out of their chairs. The action might be making a call or visiting a website. It might be going to a showroom for a test drive.

No campaign, however excellent, is going to get a 100 percent response rate on the action step. But the consumers who don't take action should at least be left with a lasting and positive impression of your product. The action step might occur down the road, when they see the product on the shelves and remember the message.

Some Excellent Examples

The best way to learn the AIDA model is to take a look at some of the best examples of it in action.

Almost every movie poster ever made conforms to AIDA. They have to. The movie poster exists to grab your attention, get your interest, feed you with a desire to see the movie, and then go and buy a ticket. 

Creators of direct mail campaigns also tend to be huge proponents of AIDA. The direct mail package must walk the reader through all four steps, and fast, or it will wind up in the trash.

Email campaigns have the same challenges, and AIDA is the solution. The subject line must grab attention. The content must raise interest​ and incite desire. And the final action should be a simple click. 

If you want to see an example of AIDA that will stay with you long after reading this article, for better or worse, try the scene from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross in which Alec Baldwin shows a masterly command of the model in just a short few minutes.