In today's world, more than ever before, global business has grown to rely heavily on the influential effects of advertising. Consumers are persuaded to part with billions of dollars every day in exchange for product and services that advertising has brought to their attention. Yet, despite the awareness of the advertising that surrounds them, the vast majority of consumers remain ignorant of the intensive research and psychological methodology that lies behind the multitude of ads, brochures, sales letters, and newspaper/magazine adverts. Psychology has long been associated with advertising, and teams of skilled consumer psychologists routinely consult with ad agencies to assist them in constructing adverts that will powerfully affect consumers on a psychological, even subconscious, level. Understanding these concepts of human psychology and their practical applications can help a company to improve sales, and aid consumers to gain an increased understanding of marketing strategies.
Persuasion lies at the heart of advertising, and the following technique achieves this through addressing a basic human reaction.
For more than fifty years, social psychologists and consumer researchers have studied the effectiveness and practical applications of fear appeals. The resulting technique relies on the presence of four stages, all of which must exist for the persuasion to prove successful. In their study, Age of Propaganda (1991), Pratkanis and Aronson argue that, "fear appeal is most effective when (1) it scares the hell out of people, (2) it offers a specific recommendation for overcoming the fear aroused threat, (3) the recommended action is perceived as effective for reducing the threat, and (4) the message recipient believes that he or she can perform the recommended action." The success or failure of this strategy relies on the existence of all four components.
Although fear will often motivate the consumer to take positive action, it will not succeed in altering this behavior if the audience feels powerless to change their situation. Therefore, fear appeals are far more likely to succeed in changing behavior if they contain specific recommendations for reducing the threat, and are presented in a manner that persuades the audience that they are both effective and achievable. This technique is also more successful if the fears targeted are specific and widely recognized. In the same way that health publications strike fear into their audience over issues such as cancer, then follow up with the specific behavior of stopping smoking, businesses can also persuade the consumer to partake of their products or services. By presenting threatening facts that require specific actions in response, the appeal to fear encourages the consumer to engage in cognitive thought processes. According to the studies of Horowitz & Bordens (Social Psychology, 1995), this central route processing strengthens existing beliefs and attitudes, increasing the likelihood of it remaining a permanent influence upon the individual's future consumer behavior.
A common and successful method of persuading through fear is on the far more trivial level of suggesting that the consumer is in danger of missing a bargain unless they buy immediately. Phrases and slogans such as 'limited offer', 'one day sale', or 'while stocks last' have the effect of scaring the consumer into believing that unless they purchase goods now, they will miss a fantastic opportunity. This also follows the technique's guidelines, and offers the consumer the means to address this threat, by rushing out to purchase before they are too late.
The art of persuasion lies in changing or strengthening people's attitudes, especially those that they hold about themselves. The following technique is based upon the perceptions that individuals have of their own attitudes and behaviors.
According to Bem (1972), self-perception theory suggests that people tend to make generalized assumptions about their own attitudes, and those of others, based primarily on visible behavior. Advertisers utilize this psychological theory to either encourage or discourage actions and behaviors by linking their products with certain attitudes and behaviors.
Using this technique, advertisers harness the power of images and ideas in order to appeal to the attitudes and perceptions that consumers hold about themselves. It is a method that is extremely successful in the cases of 'fun loving', intelligent, youthful, or successful self-perceptions. By linking a product or service to the image of any of these attitudes, the advertiser cleverly diverts the audience's attention away from the product and onto the desired attitude and self-perception. Known as the 'peripheral route to persuasion', this technique persuades the audience to associate themselves with the values and attitudes portrayed by the images, while dissuading them from thinking too hard about any negative issues surrounding the product. This technique is supported by the work of Stec and Bernstein (1999) who claim that the Liking-Agreement Heuristic or Balance Theory causes people to become positively influenced to prefer products that are linked with attractive personalities or attitudes. The prime example is in cigarette advertising where, in many cases, there are no cigarettes shown in the adverts, but the use of self-perception theory persuades the audience to associate themselves with the images of attractive, young people, living life to the full and appearing sophisticated and 'cool'. Additionally, by using this peripheral route to persuasion, self-perception theory avoids the disadvantages of the audience using their active, cognitive processes to notice the reality and negative factors associated with the product, in this case smoking.
In successfully pairing its audience's self-perceptions with attitudes that they will associate with a product, advertisers are able to tap into a universal and constant feature of human psychology. Studies also show that, although notoriously difficult to change under any circumstances, an individual's attitudes are more resistant to modification when they involve the use of active and conscious thinking. By adopting a peripheral route to persuasion, the self-perception technique can successfully bypass the cognitive process and mount a surprise attack upon the consumer's defenseless attitudes.
A specific component of every person's self-image is that of vanity and ego. The next technique focuses its attention on this component of consumer psychology. It is a strategy commonly used to sell expensive and luxury products and services.
Appeal to vanity and ego.
The foundation for this technique was succinctly described by Pratkanis and Aronson (Age of Propaganda, 1991), when they suggested that, "by purchasing the 'right stuff', we [the consumer] enhance our own egos and rationalize away our inadequacies." This technique allows advertisers to create a certain image, or identity, for a product, in order to appeal to a particular section of the audience who feel that their personal image and ego either match it, or could be improved by it.
The aim of this technique is to cause the consumer to become so closely associated with the product's image, that it almost becomes a part of their own identity. By representing the product through carefully chosen images and personalities, the advertiser can persuade the consumer that, by purchasing or using the product, they will immediately become associated with these images and attitudes. The process of persuasion is relatively simple in this case, as the majority of the potential consumers already believe that they possess the ideas and values associated with the product, and are merely seeking to express this to the outside world. Advertisers can therefore appeal to the audience's vanity and ego without the need for persuasive ideas or evidence, and can concentrate on showing their consumers the images that they want to see.
Appealing to people's vanity and ego is most successful when it homes in on characteristics that society considers being desirable, such as physical attractiveness, intelligence, economic success, and sexual prowess. As suggested by Stec and Bernstein's Balance Theory (1999), if they are presented with the correct images, consumers that possess these characteristics will buy them in order to publicize their ego, and consumers that do not possess them, will purchase them in an attempt to appear as if they do.
All the techniques so far mentioned focus their persuasive strategies upon the individual consumer's internal attitudes and psychological weaknesses. The following technique aims to influence consumer behavior by associating products and services with symbols of authority or reverence.
Transfer is a strategy that involves the advertiser using symbols, images, or ideas commonly associated with people, groups, or institutions of authority or respect, in order to persuade the consumer that the product or service is in some way acceptably endorsed.
Socialization ensures that the majority of the population trusts and respects institutions such as the church, the medical establishment, national agencies, and the scientific profession. Advertisers, who can incorporate images or symbols from any of these groups into their material, can therefore gain the trust of consumers with little need for persuasion or cognitive evidence. The ideal strategy is for a respected institution to provide its official endorsement, thereby transferring its authority, sanction and prestige to the product or service. If full endorsement is not available then the advertiser can achieve the same success by incorporating readily recognized symbols, such as a cross, a national flag, or statements from official sources. The effect of the…