Psychology and Advertising

Advertising, the action of calling something to the attention of an audience, is an old practice, having its starting point in ancient times. Egyptians used papyrus to create sales messages, while in ancient Rome and Greece, lost-and-found advertising on papyrus was common. Notices of events and displays would also be posted around Roman towns and cities.

Advertising in English magazines dates back to the end of the 17th century. In America, the first newspaper estate advertisements were placed in the early 18th century. The first advertising agency was set up in the U.S. in 1841. Since then, advertising has taken many forms: from newspaper, radio and television adverts, billboards, hoardings, leaflets, printed flyers and web banners.

Advertising methods differ depending on the medium used. Newspaper commercials should focus on theme and space, radio advertisements should focus on words and sound, TV advertisements should focus on the emotions they create, while Internet commercials should focus on colors and visuals.

People react differently to different stimuli. Creating advertisements based on the assumption that people think and act in the same way is flawed. People reach different conclusions under apparently similar circumstances. Some people think in terms of sight, their thinking being a rapid succession of pictures. For example, when they think of a musical instrument, they think how it looks, rather than how it sounds. On the other hand, there are people think in terms of sound, their thinking being a succession of sounds. Consequently, advertisements should appeal to as many senses as possible to make the consumers aware of sights, sounds, tastes and feelings at the same time in order to be effective.

However, in order to be effective, advertisements should be based on the principles of psychology and sociology. The principles of advertising are often based on cognitive psychology, on the processes of perception, attention, mental imagery, association and memory.

First, advertisements should draw the audience's attention. Advertisers use strong messages and visuals with vivid colors to capture the consumers' interest. Once attention is captured, the next step is to help consumers make associations. Certain companies use a certain color to promote certain products or brands. Company logos and symbols have a strong associative value, too. The association should be made such that it is retained in the consumers' minds for a long time.

Brands are effective methods to make consumers develop associations. People retain brands and associate images with certain products or services. Branding is vital in advertising as they give products a distinct identity. Research has shown that consumers remember brands rather than products.

In early advertisements, used in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s, repetition and jingles were used to make advertisements memorable. But from the 1990s onwards, it was found that there is too much musical and visual competition on the market and the consumers' attention was not captured so easily. For a commercial to be effective, it should contain brief suggestions, declaratory statements worded in a positive direction. Negative suggestions are not recommended as they imply logic and thus a more complex activity of the brain.

Another way to make an advert memorable is through repetition. Suggestions won't penetrate the consumers' minds unless they are repeated. This can be expensive if a campaign requires the booking of a long series of ads. Studies have shown that the use of visuals in commercials is very effective and will make adverts easy to remember.

When creating an advert, it is very important for advertisers to understand the way people make decisions. They should base their advertising campaigns on the assumption that consumers must have a logical reason to make a purchase, they must remember what they saw based on the mnemonic aspects of the message and they must have an emotional reason to buy the product. Most consumer decisions are based upon emotion, not reason. If these three steps are not involved, the advert will lack impact and power.

Psychology has always been used as an effective method in adevertising. Understanding the human mind can help companies sell their products much easier. At the same time, the concepts of human psychology will help consumers develop critical thinking when it comes to advertising and avoid unnecessary purchases.

Psychology and Advertising: Selected full-text books and articles

Psychological Processes and Advertising Effects: Theory, Research, and Applications By Linda F. Alwitt; Andrew A. Mitchell Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1985
Children's Responses to the Screen: A Media Psychological Approach By Patti M. Valkenburg Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Children and Advertising"
Attention, Attitude, and Affect in Response to Advertising By Eddie M. Clark; Timothy C. Brock; David W. Stewart Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994
Persuasion in Advertising By John O'Shanghnessy; Nicholas Jackson O'Shaughnessy Routledge, 2004
Emotion in Advertising: Theoretical and Practical Explorations By Stuart J. Agres; Julie A. Edell; Tony M. Dubitsky Quorum Books, 1990
Advertising Exposure, Memory, and Choice By Andrew A. Mitchell Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Part II "Psychological Processes in Persuasion"
The Psychology of Entertainment Media: Blurring the Lines between Entertainment and Persuasion By L. J. Shrum Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Part I "Embedding Promotions within Programs: Subliminal Embeds and Product Placements"
Diversity in Advertising: Broadening the Scope of Research Directions By Jerome D. Williams; Wei-Na Lee; Curtis P. Haugtvedt Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Two "Science for Sale: Psychology's Earliest Adventures in American Advertising"
Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal By Tom Reichert; Jacqueline Lambiase Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Historical and Psychological Perspectives of the Erotic Appeal in Advertising"
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