It’s the holiday season which seems to make a lot of people think about beliefs. I’m thinking about this great book on my desk entitled Communication Planning: An Integrated Approach by Sherry Devereaux Ferguson and reading the section on understanding the psychology of audiences (Chapter 7).

Citing social psychologist Milton Rokeach the book outlines five belief types:

  • Type A - Worldview beliefs: These beliefs constitute basic truths: physical (“This is a cat”), social reality (“I live in Boston”), and nature of the self (“I am a man”). These beliefs are nearly impossible to change.

  • Type B - Personal beliefs: These are ego centered and internally formed. Usually self-evaluations (“I’m intelligent”), they can also be phobias or delusions (“I’m fat”).

  • Type C - Authority beliefs: These beliefs are formed because of an outside authority, or in opposition to that authority (“I’ll accept that because the president said it” or “I’ll disbelieve that because the president said it”).

  • Type D - Beliefs emanating from authority figures: These beliefs are formed indirectly by the actions of authority figures (People’s distrust of Richard Nixon led them to distrust the office of the President and of government and politics in general).

  • Type E - Matters of taste: These are arbitrary or essentially inconsequential opinions. While these beliefs may be defended just as strongly as more central beliefs, individuals will more readily relinquish them them. (“This is the best ice cream”). Examples are product preferences or brand allegiances.

So what? Most commercial messages concern Type E beliefs and most advertising takes the form of linking Type E beliefs with more core belief types. For example:

  • Linking Type E to Type B: These usually take the form of convincing the individual that use of a product or service will have a personal affect upon them (“Drinking this soda will make you popular” or “If you are athletic, you should use this deodorant”)

  • Linking Type E to Type C: Connecting matters of taste to an authority is usually the domain of the testimonial or endorsement.