How advertising strategies affect human psyche.

Advertisement strategies and human psyche

Advertising is itself as old as basic economic activity. Earliest forms of advertising can be traced back to Egyptian civilization, however in the recent past origins of modern advertising can be traced to the 18th and 19th century. Since then the science of advertisement has gone on to become one of the most researched and pivotal field of study for modern business/economy. The list below shows the evolutionary stages through which advertisement has gone in last 150 years or so


Initially advertisements used to be very basic and straight forward. In the late 1800`s when the main mode of communication was mainly the print medium, advertisements used to be simply informational. However, as the research progressed advertisers adopted the emotional appeal approach. Walter D. Scott was probably the first person to connect psychology with advertisement. He stated:

“Advertisements are sometimes spoken of as the nervous system of the business world … As our nervous system is constructed to give us all the possible sensations from objects, so the advertisement which is comparable to the nervous system must awaken in the reader as many different kinds of images as the object itself can excite”

This kick-started extensive research into human behavior and consequently advertising strategies changed from the “direct sell approach” to “emotional appeal approach.” These two approaches can simply be explained in this manner.

Direct sell: Advertisement of a piano in a newspaper, which advertised the dimensions, color and price.
Emotional Appeal: Advertisement of a piano in a newspaper, which emphasised the quality of sound produced and the satisfaction it`ll provide to the potential buyer. In simple words, emotional appeal pitched the product to the customer and then created a desire for it.
This strategy was fruitful. As time progressed, more and more research further streamlined the whole process. Today almost a century of extensive research into consumer behavior and human psyche has armed advertising agencies with such intricate details which allow them to hack into our very functional brains and alter our behavior for their own profit. Advertisers use strategies such as repetition, image advertising, stereotyping, agenda setting and salience to force us to make decisions in their favor.

But this isn`t the only effect. For producers, the game ends when the buyer makes the decision to buy the product or not. But for the consumers, it continues. Mind is a complex place(if that is the right word). When you use techniques and methods to influence the decision making centers, you are changing a part of the consumer. The advertising strategies, permeate through the decision making centers into other thought processing centers of the brain. In simple words, advertisement can and has affected cultures, morality and the way we see and perceive the world.

Advertising changes cultures, morals, norms and values:

Half a decade ago, the concept of whitening creams for men was absurd and laughed upon, it went against the very definition of masculinity. However an extensive campaign by Nivea changed it all. Similarly decades ago, Americans weren`t in the habit of brushing their teeth daily. A clever ad campaign by Pepsodent changed this. Claude Hopkins, was a prominent advertiser during WW1 era, he looked for a trigger. In order to make a “toothpaste” sell successfully, he needed to get the Americans to brush their teeth daily or more often. How did he do that? He played with their mind. 🙂

To sell Pepsodent, Hopkins needed a trigger- something that people could relate with or something that they did every day. Then he had to connect that product to that trigger so that the use of the product (routine) led to a reward. While going through dental books, he came across a piece of info about mucin plaques on teeth which he later called “the film”.

He had an interesting idea- he decided to advertise the Pepsodent toothpaste as a creator of beauty, something that could help people get rid of that cloudy film. The film is actually a naturally occurring membrane that builds up on teeth regardless of what you eat or how often you brush.

It can be removed by eating an apple, running fingers on the teeth or vigorously swirling liquid around the mouth. But people didn’t know that because they had paid little attention to it. Hopkins plastered the walls of cities with many ads including this one.

Just run your tongue across your teeth. You’ll feel a film- that’s what makes your teeth look ‘off-color’ and invites decay. Pepsodent removes the film!

Hopkins used a trigger that was easy to notice (chances are high you also ran your tongue across your teeth after reading the previous line), created a routine that could help people satisfy a non-existent need and fitted his product into the routine.

Hopkins used a trigger that was easy to notice (chances are high you also ran your tongue across your teeth after reading the previous line), created a routine that could help people satisfy a non-existent need and fitted his product into the routine.

Brushing teeth was important, of course, for maintaining dental hygiene. But Hopkins couldn’t convince people by just saying, “Brush everyday”. No one cares. He had to create a new need, even if it was just a figment of his imagination!

In the coming years, the sale of Pepsodent skyrocketed, brushing teeth using Pepsodent became almost a worldwide habit and Hopkins made millions in profit. 

This was just a small example. Small, harmless and hygienic example. But advertisements can have a much more profound effect. A study conducted by Janus and Noreen revealed that modern multi national corporations have given rise to a transnational culture. The cultures, individual cultures of the old world are being eroded away and being replaced by a transnational culture based on consumption.

Transnational advertising is one of the major reasons both for the spread of transnational culture and the breakdown of traditional cultures. Depicting the racy foreign lifestyles of a blond jetsetter in French or English, it associates Western products with modernity. That which is modern is good; that which is traditional is implicitly bad, impeding the march of progress. Transnational culture strives to eliminate local cultural variations.

What do we know about the impact of transnational culture on Third World cultures? Personal observations are plentiful. Anyone who has heard children singing along with television commercials and introducing these themes into their daily games begins to see the impact. There are more extensive analyses as well. Pierre Thizier Seya studied the impact of transnational advertising on cultures in the Ivory Coast. He notes that transnational firms such as Colgate and Nestle have helped to replace traditional products – often cheaper and more effective – with industrialized toothpastes and infant formulas.

By consuming Coca-Cola, Nestle products, Marlboro, Maggi, Colgate or Revlon, Ivorians are not only fulfilling unnecessary needs but also progressively relinquishing their authentic world outlook in favor of the transnational way of life.

Advertising of skin-lightening products persuades the African women to be ashamed of their own color and try to be white.

In trying to be as white as possible, that is to say, in becoming ashamed of their traditional being, the Ivorians are at the same time relinquishing one of the most powerful weapons at their disposal for safeguarding their dignity as human beings: their racial identify. And advertising is not neutral in such a state of affairs.

Advertising is affecting not just our habits, but also our culture. But does it really stop here? If our habits and cultures have become subservient to a transnational culture, then what next? Our morality!

There are several concerns regarding media and morality. Every year around the Super Bowl, commercials are scrutinized. As the Super Bowl is a family event, special attention is given to commercials that are overly sexual and send out questionable messages.

Besides their often-sexualized content, commercials are also questioned for promoting materialism and sending out false or misleading messages. Commercials are so good at marketing that a 3-year-old child can recognize more than 100 different brands (Center for a New American Dream). While this seems harmless, materialism can lead to discontentment, unhappy relationships, and drug or alcohol abuse (Focus on the Family). Untruths are another issue, and the commercials that are questioned the most for this are often political ads. Children are being taught that telling untruths is acceptable in order to sell a particular candidate or product.

Violence on television is another concern with media. Norman Herr, PhD, professor of science education at California State University, Northridge, estimates that by the time a person turns 18, they have already seen 200,000 acts of violence on television. This can affect behavior. “Studies show extensive viewing may be to blame for aggressive or violent behavior, poor academic performance, precocious sexuality, obesity, and substance abuse”

People across the globe, from children to the elderly are bombarded with thousands of advertisements. Even when we aren`t aware, our mind consciously consumes them and stores the meanings, forms and messages displayed in the memory and thought centers of the brain. As the knowledge dump accumulates, it begins to influence our behavior. Various studies have shown that by being exposed to the consumerist and materialistic culture portrayed in the advertisements, children are or rather they have gone through a psychological change. Similarly women are objectified in advertisements. Women are usually depicted as:

A large portion of advertising deals with the promotion of products in a way that defines an “ideal” body image. This objectification greatly affects women; however, men are also affected. Women and men in advertising are frequently portrayed in unrealistic and distorted images that set a standard for what is considered “beautiful,” “attractive” or “desirable.” Such imagery does not allow for what is found to be beautiful in various cultures or to the individual. It is exclusionary, rather than inclusive, and consequently, these advertisements promote a negative message about body image to the average person. Because of this form of media, girls, boys, women and men may feel under high pressure to maintain an unrealistic and often unhealthy body weight or even to alter their physical appearance cosmetically or surgically in minor to drastic ways.

So, whether we like it or not advertising has had singularly the most important effect in shaping the world in the past decade. Our behavior, our cultures, our norms and values have all been affected by advertisement strategies and media in general. It would not be wrong to say that advertisement strategies have a profound effect on human psyche. The way we see, perceive and understand the world has all changed and it seems is at the mercy of advertisers. Certainly, when you look at the world like this, things start to fall into place. You see people going against confirmed norms, defying nature. This itself is a separate topic, but if you look at how the traditional family has almost disappeared and now we live in a world where even the definition of “family” has changed. All of these changes, have roots in advertising and media. After all, the corporations cannot sell you anything, neither the products, nor the ideas without creating a desire first. Remember the movie “Inception”?


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