The influence advertisements have on us

Subliminal messages, priming, and persuasion- the psychological power of advertisements.

Advertising is one of the oldest marketing techniques employed. Be it the age-old coke ads or the popular of advertisements for the United States military during World War I. The influence they have on us may be unconscious but is undeniable. Advertisements are not just limited to companies seeking to sell products but also to governments and organizations propagating movements. Take the example of Germany, during World War II, the German government printed cartoons and sketches “advertising” their anti-Semitic beliefs slowly but effectively selling their idea to the people. The genocide that followed is a testament to the power and influence of advertising. Rosie the Riveter, “I Want YOU for the US army”, Jell-O, Coca Cola, and many more are just the most glaring examples of the power of advertising.

All of the aforementioned examples find their success in the simple tactics any 12th-grade textbook can teach you. The tactics of appealing to us without letting us know that you are. Yet another aspect of our lives explained by the perennial mystery of the unconscious mind.

The symbiotic relationship between psychology and advertising is further highlighted through the existence of “Organizational Psychology” a branch of Psychology that has an entire subfield dedicated to studying consumer behaviour.

Once the power of priming was realized, companies actively began to study the human mind and the influence advertisements had on it. Numerous experiments later, the conclusion was reached that human beings are in fact slaves to their unconscious mind. We, as consumers, can quite literally be coerced into buying a product or service just by being exposed to an advertisement about it. Some ads work easier than the others – some require repeated exposure while others do the trick almost immediately.

This whole process is of course much less daunting than it seems. It is not like all good sense fails to prevail; it just seems to take a back seat most of the times. There is, of course, a way to crack this code. Almost all advertisements follow the same set of rules, almost like a pre-designed and successfully tested algorithm. The appeal to emotion – fear, anger, sadness, joy-, the use of specific colours – red for success, black for power, white for purity- the use of catchy jingles, attractive people, and celebrities are just some of the most commonly used gimmicks to sell a product/service/idea. All these tactics appeal to different parts of our brain making us believe that it is imperative we own the proposition that is being advertised.

Ads make us believe in things that may not necessarily be true. To illustrate the malleability of memories, Disney conducted an ad test with people who had visited one of their theme parks but did not actively recall meeting a character during the visit. After showing test-group various commercials of the sights and sounds on the Disney Parks, including meeting Mickey, a staggering 90% of respondents recalled that they either remembered meeting Mickey or were confident that it might have happened.

Thus we see that the sheer nature of an advertisement can increase the influence it has on us.

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