The Psychology of Advertising

On why it is important to understand mass psychology and the psychological processes of cognition for any successful advertising endeavor…

Advertising has been a form of glorifying or gaining publicity for goods and merchandise since very early times. In fact, advertising has been around as an informal concept since the beginning of civilizations and former methods were oral advertising or claiming the benefits of products verbally when merchants sold goods to people directly on the streets. However with the advent of paper and writing, advertising took a more formal shape.

Egyptians and Ancient Greeks used the papyrus for advertising and rock painting was also used. Advertising in English in magazines as we know today dates back to the end of the 17th century and newspaper advertising in America began during the first part of the 18th century with advertisements for estates. With the growth of mass media and different forms and avenues of communication like radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, and of course the internet in the 20th century, advertising started becoming an important aspect for commercialization of products. People started understanding the potential of advertisements and it became a business with the establishment of advertising agencies with the first advertising agency in US opened in 1841.

With advertising becoming a business in itself, the methods of using advertisements became even more formalized, controlled and systematic and the advertisements for products started appearing as newspaper ads, on billboards, hoardings, as handbills, leaflets, on magazines, newspapers, on TV and radio as commercials and more recently on the internet. Web advertising is now a very powerful means to take the message across to the customers. However to actually appeal to customers, advertising will have to work in accordance with the principles of psychology and sociology. Thus an advertiser or an advertising professional will also have to be a sociologist and a psychologist to really have an impact on the minds of consumers.

The principles of advertising are largely based on cognitive psychology and the psychological processes of attention, perception, association and memory to bring out the complete impact or uses of a product or ‘brand’. Any advertisement will have to first focus on the attention that it is able to capture of the consumers. Strong messages, strong visuals and glaring colors are sometimes used on hoardings and billboards. For commercials, attention catching clothes and attractive models are sometimes used.

Once the attention is drawn with the colors and the sounds or words, the focus is on retaining consumer interests by using ‘association’. Themes or products which a particular segment of customers could associate with are used thus for baby food, mothers and babies are featured so association would have more to do with relevance or context of the advertisement. Certain colors also have associative value and certain brands and companies use a specific color to promote their products. For example easygroup uses orange and Vodafone uses red as standard color for all advertising. The company logo or symbol is also a part of developing a brand and helps in giving identity to a brand and has a strong associative value.

The association should be such that it not only serves the purpose of quick understanding and perception of the consumers but is also retained in their memory for a long time. Thus memory or retention is an important aspect of the psychology of advertising as only an advertisement that consumers can easily remember for a long time for its novelty or use of words, colors and figures will be the most effective.

The development of a ‘brand’ is just as effective because a brand helps in driving attention, in developing association (for example, we associate Coke or Pepsi with youth, celebration and a soft drink popular for all occasions) and in memory or retention of any image associated with a service or product. So branding is vital in advertisements as brands help in giving a name and distinct identity of a product. So a Gucci bag or a Sony camera is known for the brand rather than the product.

A brand is recognized in terms of its name, its quality and its reputation with advertisements these days highlighting the uniqueness of brands. For example, HSBC recent advertisements across airports around the world, focus on the differing points of view and different likes and preferences of people across cultures. So when you see such advertisements showing two different perspectives for the same thing, you know this is HSBC. Certain brands develop taglines or motto that sets the brand apart and gives it a distinct character.

You might have wondered why models look lifeless on fashion shows. Fashion shows are usually arranged for designer brands selling clothes and accessories and usually these fashion shows try to accentuate the clothes and that is why the models tend to be rather ‘expressionless’. Although these fashion shows project the clothes sans the emoting, in case of commercials, expressions are widely used because through visual medium, emotions have to be transported through the screen to the consumers to create an effect. Putting across a message through a medium is a challenge and advertisers use emotions widely to help people retain the message that describes the product.

Whatever it is, the mantra is to create an impact and have a lasting effect on the minds of the consumers. The message of the product, the motto of the brand and the mind of the consumer, these are the three Ms that are important in advertising.

However it is important to understand that advertising will have to be different for different media. Radio ads should focus on the strength of sounds and words; internet ads will focus on visuals and colors; newspaper ads will focus on space and the theme; and TV ads would focus more on the emotions and the context used. Using motion, capitalized letters, contrasting colors etc are all important and in order to draw attention to the product, some form of highlighting of the product is also done.

How does all this affect the masses, the consumers who will actually buy the product? Apart from the attention drawing process, the retention producing sounds and words that help memory and the associative value of the products and the advertisements, there is another factor namely necessity of the consumer. Advertising is not just enough, as a customer is driven to buy a product largely considering the necessity, quality, features and price of the product.

If a company solely focuses on the physical aspects of any product, like say – an Apple iPhone looks good on the table, then it’s probably not the best method to have an impact on the market. The features are as important as the price. Then of course, the ‘hype’ that triggers a certain mass psychology in a certain way so people sometimes queue up for newly released products. But trying to tap in on mass psychology or a kind of hype or hysteria for a product is only a short term advertising strategy. The longer term establishment of a product is through real quality, usability and price and all companies should emphasize on these ultimately.

Competition may have a lot to do with the type of advertising used by companies, so the weaknesses of other similar products by other companies are highlighted subtly although this may not always have a positive impact on the mind of the customer. Usually most products advertised as unique and not even remotely similar to other products can have a positive effect and can effectively generate hype and consumer curiosity. Focusing on the unique and highlighting the dissimilarity and novelty of a product in a way that attracts curiosity is a certain method to improve popularity of a product, so this gives consumers the reason to know more and they will enter the shops to enquire about the product. Although celebrities are largely used in advertisements to endorse products or promote a brand, the celebrity culture affects only the youth strongly so the entire value of celebrity advertising may be a bit overrated. This will require a separate discussion on celebrity culture.

The final goal of all advertisers and promoters is to ensure that products and services sell and to increase sales and potential consumer interest creating curiosity is a first short term step while introducing a new product into the market. Retaining customer interest is a different ballgame and requires reputation of the brand, product quality, right pricing and continued high quality advertising to ultimately ensure success of the product.

Source by Saberi Roy