The other day I came across Hidden Persuasion: 33 Psychological Influences Techniques in Advertising, a book by Marc Andrews, creative director and psychologist from Amsterdam. It’s about the methods advertisers use to lure potential “audiences” in. Andrews and his team explore 33 tactics advertisers deploy – with the mention that these are just the sneakiest – out of dozens more set lose out there, in the world. Since not all our choices and decisions are rational, there’s an unconscious level which makes us quite vulnerable. To make us buy stuff, advertising exploits these vulnerabilities.

Below I picked three of my “favorite” tricks. They might convince you to add this book to other useful readings for finding the right voice for your new shop. Or for advertising it.

This discussion is also part of what I see as a necessity nowadays: making sense of the tons of information, and learning to deal with it, dodging its endless tricks and subliminal messages. Most of you already “suffer” of banner blindness, but imagine there’s a light bulb above your head every time you look at an ad.

Here we are:


Or personification is attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being. This is a massive trick in advertising. It means that the more human features you can guess in animals, buildings, letters, even detergent bottles, the more likely is that you – as a the human “target” – will look, maybe smile, soften up or even cry. Remember? Dancing animals, smiley spoons, sad clothes? But some are subtle, and you don’t notice them consciously. Andrews discussed the three “e”s in a Heineken ad: “There’s nothing human about a typeface, but this slightly turned “e” gives the feeling of smiling” which leads to a totally different relationship to the brand. The more human products become, the more connected we feel to them, the more emotions we tend to add to them.


I’m sure there’s one of those extremely friendly faces (perfect haircut, spotless shirt, whitest teeth) on a poster or billboard, meters away from you, as we speak. They’re everywhere. And something tells me the CV isn’t worth much when you audition for “trustworthiness.” There’s a particular trustworthy look all advertising agencies are search for. Insurance companies, hospitals, banks, and other institutions we trust with our money or health, are big fans of this particular type of look. In this situation, we’re relying on visual cues to figure our how we feel about something. However, there’s more to it than “good teeth” and “lovely smile,” because trustworthiness can actually be measured: “higher faces” are more trustworthy than “wide faces,” brown eyes more than blue ones, and so on.


Go on (almost) any low cost airline company website, try to buy a ticket, and you’ll do your best to speed up the process because you’re bombarded with real time alerts informing you that “there are only two tickets left” at this price, “one ticket” (!) etc. And who wants to miss a bargain? Nobody wants to pay more for a product, when there’s the opportunity to buy it for much less, or even get it for free (see the “two for the price of one” trick, for instance). Not to mention the panic that you might miss out on it altogether. Andrews thinks this is partially because it’s been ingrained in our minds that the expensive things, like gold, tend to be scarce. This scarcity can also suggest that other people like the product, so it must be good. Right?!

As I mentioned earlier, there are dozens of tricks out there. Do you have a “favorite” one? Or perhaps just discovered a new one? Share, share. Cheers!

[Photo Credit: Justas Galaburda]