Advertising Principles - Evidence-based principles

Why you should use checklists when you create advertisements

Despite their confidence, experts are unable to make useful decisions when they need to know the effects of changes in complex situations (Armstrong 1980;Tetlock 2006).

This applies to doctors, engineers, military leaders, aviators, executives, and advertisers. There is a standard solution to decision-making for complex problems when good knowledge exists about the causal factors: the use of "checklists."

       Checklists can help people to use all relevant and valid knowledge. The key requirement is that the checklist items be well-supported.  This occcurs in engineering, manufacturing, aviation, aeronautics, or surgery. In these fields, checklists have been found to save lives and money (Gawande 2010Hales and Provonost 2006). Furthermore, computer checklists have been found to be more effective than those done on paper (Boorman 2001).

        In their review of 15 studies on the use of checklists in healthcare, Hales and Provonost (2006) found that there were substantial improvements in outcomes in all studies. For example, an experiment on avoiding infection in intensive care units of 103 Michigan-based hospitals required some physicians to follow five well-known rules when inserting catheters. Adhering to this simple checklist reduced the infection rate from 2.7 per 1,000 patients to zero after three months. Benefits persisted sixteen to eighteen months after the checklist was introduced as infection rates decreased by 66 percent overall.

       Another study examined the application of a 19-item checklist for surgical procedures on thousands of patients in eight hospitals around the world. Following the introduction of the checklist, death rates declined by almost half (from 1.5 to 0.8 percent), and complications declined by over one-third (from 11 to 7 percent) (Haynes, et al 2009).

       Given the potential effects on human welfare in these areas, it would be foolish to try to make decisions without the aid of checklists. In fact, organizations and regulators often require the use of checklists and penalize those who fail to use them, The completion of an aviation checklist by memory, for example, is considered to be a violation of proper procedures.

       The above gains were made in fields with commonly known causes. The effects are expected to be much greater when using evidence-based items that are not well-known. This brings us to the situation in advertising, There is much experimental evidence on persuasion (Armstrong 2010); this knowledge has been translated into persuasion principles; and the principles are not well-known (Armstrong 2011). The persuasion principles are now available in checklist format so that by using them, advertisers can expand beyond their current knowledge. 

       Remember that no matter how much knowledge you have about the principles, you must use checklists in order to benefit from this knowledge.


Armstrong, J. S. (1980). The Seer-Sucker theory: The value of experts in forecasting. Technology Review, 1980(83), 16-24.

Armstrong, J. S. (2010). Persuasive Advertising. Hampshire. U.K:: Palgrave MacMillan.

Armstrong, J. S. (2011). Evidence-based advertising: An application to persuasion. International Journal of Advertising, 30(5), 743-767.

Boorman, D. (2001), Today’s electronic checklists reduce likelihood of crew errors and help prevent mishaps. International Civil Aviation Organization Journal, 1, 17-36.

Gawande, A. (2010). The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Hales, B. M., & Pronovost, P. J. (2006). The checklist—a tool for error management and performance improvement. Journal of Critical Care, 21, 231-235.

Haynes, Alex B., et al. "A surgical safety checklist to reduce morbidity and mortality in a global population."New England Journal of Medicine360.5 (2009): 491-499.

Tetlock, P. C. (2005). Expert Political Judgment. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

© Copyright J. Scott Armstrong and Kesten C. Green. All rights are reserved.
Web Design by Zoe Communications Ltd.