I am a big proponent of the psychology of advertising and how it could be used in developing successful marketing strategies.

The main goal of an advertising campaign is to attract and draw in as much attention as possible from potential buyers.

With the multitude of advertisements that we come across everyday, companies need to develop ways to stand out from not only other ads but particularly their competition.

Marketers have been using psychology methods to help develop their advertising campaigns for many years. With growing competition, it is important that companies learn new ways to attract attention with psychology.

Let’s dive right in!

The Psychology of Advertising Explained

The psychology of advertising involves understanding how and why certain marketing strategies and tactics influence consumer behavior.

It’s a field that intersects psychology and marketing, focusing on the ways in which advertising impacts the human mind and emotions. Here are some key aspects:

  1. Consumer Perception: This involves understanding how consumers interpret and make sense of advertising messages. It includes the study of how visual and textual elements in ads influence perception.
  2. Emotional Appeal: Advertisements often aim to evoke specific emotions like happiness, fear, or nostalgia, influencing consumers’ attitudes towards a product or brand.
  3. Behavioral Influence: It studies how advertising can shape consumer behavior, such as purchasing decisions or brand loyalty. Techniques like repeated exposure and persuasive messaging are key topics here.
  4. Subconscious Influences: Many advertisements target the subconscious mind, using subtle cues and messaging to influence consumer attitudes and behaviors without their full awareness.
  5. Cultural and Social Factors: Understanding how cultural norms and social influences impact the effectiveness of advertising. This includes tailoring messages to specific demographic groups or utilizing social proof to influence purchasing decisions.
  6. Brand Identity and Positioning: Developing a strong brand identity and effectively positioning it in the market is crucial. This involves creating a unique image and personality for the brand that resonates with the target audience.
  7. Decision-Making Processes: Studying how consumers make decisions and how advertising can guide them through this process. This includes the use of decision-making models and understanding factors that influence consumer choices.
  8. Neuromarketing: A more recent area, it involves using neuroscience techniques to understand how consumers’ brains respond to advertisements, providing insights into unconscious reactions and preferences.

Overall, the psychology of advertising is about understanding human behavior in relation to marketing communications and leveraging that understanding to create effective advertising strategies.

The Origins of the Psychology of Advertising

In 1895, Harlow Gale who was the first psychologist to use psychology in advertising, leveraging theory and scientific methods to study advertising and the process of persuasion.

He was the first to develop advertising surveys and experiments that sought to find the effects of advertising on attention and memory. He was intrigued by how people processed ads “from the time they see the advertisement until they have purchased the article advertised.” He concluded that “attitude toward the ad” consisted of both affective and cognitive aspects, central and peripheral cues, issue involvement, personal influence and unconscious attitude formation.

In 1903, Walter Dill Scott wrote The Theory and Practice of Advertising, where he asserted that people were highly suggestible and obedient. He believed in two advertising techniques, which involved commands and coupons: 1) stating a direct command such as “use such and such product” and 2) asking consumers to complete a coupon and mail it into the company.

Harry Hollingworth was a psychologist who worked to understand what was behind the use of effective advertising. He believed that advertising needed to accomplish four things in order to be successful: 1) attract a consumer’s attention, 2) focus the attention onto the message, 3) make the consumer remember the message and 4) cause the consumer to take the desired action.

As the psychology of advertising got more popular, other psychologists started conducting experiments that would be the stepping stones for successful advertisements. Starting in the 1960s, Madison Avenue became the hub of advertising agencies where many companies would make great strides in the advertising world.

12 Examples of Psychological Techniques Used in Advertising

Psychology has had a huge impact on the effectiveness of advertisements.

Once people become consciously aware of a particular advertisement, they need to store the message in their memories long enough to provoke a purchase.

The advertisement needs to convince or show a target audience that they need or want the item, which may lead to a potential purchase or impulse buy.

Many studies show the effectiveness of advertisements through the use of psychological factors that affect behavior or buying decisions.

Here are 12 of the most common techniques used in the psychology of advertising to drive purchase behavior:

1. Using Cute Animals

Using cute animals in advertising leverages the natural human response to find baby animals adorable. By incorporating cute animals, companies aim to evoke positive feelings, making their product or brand more memorable and likable.

2. Infusing Humor

Humor in advertising makes ads entertaining and memorable. Laughter creates positive associations with the brand and can lower defenses, making consumers more receptive to the message.

3. Preying on Fear

Fear-based advertising creates urgency or anxiety, encouraging consumers to act to avoid negative outcomes. This technique is often used in industries like health and insurance to motivate consumers to buy products for protection or safety.

4. Creating Excitement

Ads that create a sense of excitement or adventure lead to positive emotional associations with a brand. This technique is effective in making products or services appear more desirable.

5. Tugging on the Heartstrings

Emotional ads that evoke feelings like love, nostalgia, or sympathy can create strong connections between the consumer and the brand, making the brand more memorable and relatable.

6. The Reciprocity Principle

Based on the idea that people feel obligated to return favors, this principle in advertising might involve offering free samples or gifts, with the expectation that consumers will feel compelled to make a purchase in return.

7. Commitment

Advertisements often encourage small initial commitments (like signing up for a newsletter). Once a consumer has made a small commitment, they are more likely to engage further, including making purchases.

8. Consensus

This technique involves showing that others are using or endorsing a product, suggesting a group consensus. Seeing that others approve of the product can influence individuals to conform and make similar choices.

9. Authority

Ads often use authority figures or experts to endorse products. Consumers are more likely to trust and follow recommendations from a perceived authority in a relevant field.

10. Liking

This principle is based on the tendency of people to agree with or buy from individuals or brands they like. Advertisers often create likable personas or brand images to foster positive associations and trust.

11. Scarcity

Scarcity creates a sense of urgency, suggesting that consumers need to act quickly to acquire a product before it runs out. This technique can be powerful in driving immediate action.

12. Verbatim Effect

This effect refers to the tendency of people to remember the gist of information rather than the exact details. Advertisers use this by creating catchy, simple messages that are easy to recall.

The Psychology of Color in Advertising

The psychology of color in advertising is a fascinating area, as colors can significantly influence consumer behavior and perception. Here’s an overview of how different colors are commonly used and perceived in advertising:


  • Associations: Energy, urgency, passion, excitement.
  • Use in Advertising: Often used for clearance sales due to its attention-grabbing and urgent nature. Red can also stimulate appetite, making it popular in food industry ads.


  • Associations: Trust, dependability, tranquility, calmness.
  • Use in Advertising: Commonly used by banks and businesses to evoke trust and professionalism. It’s also seen as non-invasive and soothing, making it suitable for healthcare and technology ads.


  • Associations: Optimism, happiness, youthfulness.
  • Use in Advertising: Used to grab attention and evoke a sense of cheerfulness or affordability. Effective in window displays and outdoor advertisements.


  • Associations: Health, freshness, serenity, nature.
  • Use in Advertising: Often used for products associated with health and nature. It’s also used in stores to relax customers and in eco-friendly product advertising.


  • Associations: Confidence, friendliness, and enthusiasm.
  • Use in Advertising: Used to create a call to action, such as subscribe, buy, or sell. It’s eye-catching without the intensity of red.


  • Associations: Power, sophistication, luxury, elegance.
  • Use in Advertising: Common in luxury product advertisements to evoke a sense of elegance and exclusivity.


  • Associations: Simplicity, purity, cleanliness.
  • Use in Advertising: Often used as a background color to create a sense of simplicity and cleanliness. It’s also effective in minimalist designs.


  • Associations: Royalty, wisdom, respect.
  • Use in Advertising: Used for products targeting women and children, often to suggest luxury or creativity.


  • Associations: Romance, femininity, softness.
  • Use in Advertising: Commonly used in products targeting women and young girls, evoking softness, sweetness, or romance.


  • Associations: Earthiness, durability, richness.
  • Use in Advertising: Often used for products associated with the outdoors or ruggedness, as well as in luxury goods to evoke a sense of richness and tradition.

In advertising, the use of color is not just about aesthetics; it’s a powerful tool that can affect emotions, behaviors, and perceptions. Brands carefully choose their color schemes to align with their message, target audience, and product characteristics.

How Commercials Use Advertisement Psychology

Commercials use psychology in several ways to influence viewers and encourage them to buy products or services:

  1. Emotional Appeal: Commercials often evoke emotions like happiness, sadness, or nostalgia. This helps create a strong connection between the viewer and the product or brand, making the ad more memorable and impactful.
  2. Social Proof: By showing that other people use and enjoy a product, commercials tap into the viewer’s desire to conform and be part of a group. This can be done through customer testimonials, celebrity endorsements, or showing large groups of people enjoying the product.
  3. Urgency and Scarcity: Commercials often create a sense of urgency (e.g., “limited time offer”) or scarcity (e.g., “while supplies last”), making the viewer feel they need to act quickly to avoid missing out.
  4. Repetition: Repeated exposure to a product or brand in commercials helps embed it in the viewer’s memory. This can lead to increased brand recognition and a greater likelihood of choosing the product when making a purchase decision.
  5. Problem and Solution: Many commercials present a problem that the viewer might be experiencing and then provide a solution in the form of their product. This technique aligns the product with the viewer’s needs, making it more appealing.
  6. Authority and Expertise: Some commercials use experts or authority figures to endorse their products, making the product seem more trustworthy and effective.
  7. Lifestyle Association: Commercials often depict a desirable lifestyle or aspirational images associated with the product, suggesting that using the product will enable the viewer to achieve a similar lifestyle or status.
  8. Colors and Music: The use of specific colors and music can influence the viewer’s emotions and perceptions, making the commercial more appealing and memorable.

By combining these techniques, commercials aim to persuade viewers, influence their purchasing decisions, and create a lasting impression of the brand or product.

How is Cognitive Psychology Used in Advertising?

Cognitive psychology, which explores how people perceive, think, remember, and learn, plays a crucial role in advertising.

One of the primary ways it is used is through the understanding of memory and attention.

Advertisers craft messages and visuals in a way that makes them easy to process and remember. This includes using catchy jingles, memorable slogans, or distinctive logos.

These elements are designed to be simple and engaging so that they easily embed in long-term memory, ensuring that consumers recall the brand or product when making purchasing decisions.

Another aspect of cognitive psychology in advertising is the use of psychological principles to influence attitudes and decision-making.

Advertisers often leverage principles like the mere exposure effect, where repeated exposure to a brand increases liking, or the anchoring effect, where initial information (like price or quality) provided in an ad becomes a reference point for decision-making.

There’s also a focus on how consumers process information, leading to the creation of ads that simplify complex information or present persuasive arguments in a manner that resonates with the target audience’s cognitive processing styles.

In essence, cognitive psychology guides advertisers in creating campaigns that are not just visually appealing and emotionally resonant, but also cognitively engaging, ensuring that the message not only captures attention but also influences thought processes and, ultimately, consumer behavior.

How is Social Psychology Used in Ads?

Social psychology is extensively used in advertising to harness the influence of social factors on individual behavior.

This branch of psychology studies how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. In advertising, this manifests in several ways.

Firstly, the concept of social proof is a key element.

Advertisers often show that a product is popular or endorsed by others, particularly influential figures or celebrities, to suggest that it is desirable. This technique leverages the natural human tendency to conform to what others are doing or approving.

Testimonials, user reviews, and celebrity endorsements are common examples of social proof in action.

Another aspect is the portrayal of desired identities and lifestyles.

Advertisers skillfully craft narratives or images that reflect idealized lifestyles or identities that resonate with their target audience.

By aligning a product with a certain lifestyle, ads tap into the viewer’s aspirations, suggesting that using the product will bring them closer to the desired social identity, whether it’s being perceived as successful, fashionable, or socially conscious.

Additionally, advertising often utilizes principles of group dynamics, such as in-group/out-group biases.

By aligning a product with the values and aesthetics of a specific group, ads can create a sense of belonging or distinction, appealing to the viewer’s desire to be part of a particular social group or to differentiate themselves from others.

In sum, social psychology in advertising is about understanding and leveraging the social context of consumers’ lives, tapping into the deep-seated human need for social affiliation, approval, and identity formation.

Through these techniques, advertisers aim to make their products more appealing, shaping consumer attitudes and behaviors in line with social influences.

Wrapping Up

In the competitive marketing world, the psychology of advertising plays a pivotal role in distinguishing one brand from another.

It’s a blend of creativity and psychological insight, aiming to capture not just the eyes but also the minds of potential buyers amidst a sea of advertisements.

This intricate dance of psychological tactics, from evoking emotions to leveraging social influences, not only makes certain commercials stand out but also subtly nudges consumer behavior, making the psychology of advertising an indispensable tool in the arsenal of successful marketing strategies.

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