The notion that advertising is an attempt to encourage or influence consumer purchasing behavior is not a foreign concept to the American culture. Without advertising how else would we know about the hottest trends, latest marketing fashions, all-inclusive gadgets and thingamajigs? Have you put much thought into why we eat what we eat, buy what we buy, like what we like, or do what we do?
Today’s advertising has a huge influence on American families, influencing not only what people wear, how they entertain themselves, what vehicles they drive, and what food they eat, but they even go as far as suggesting pills for male sexual enhancement. You may argue the point that it’s ultimately the decision of the consumer to purchase a product however with this being said, is there the possibility that persuasion is concealed through suggestive, subtle language, leading to an unrecognized, impact on consumer choice?
A Brief Advertising History
The idea of suggestive media effects is actually rather clever, and nothing new to the American culture. Advertising in the U.S. began to emerge with the influx of mass production, and consumption in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During the Nation’s biggest economic disaster, the Great Depression, programs such as the New Deal and the National Housing Act of 1934, were designed and implemented to help boost the economy and promote home ownership. During and after WWII, advertising companies flooded the consumer market with promises aimed at Americans determined to seek a better way of life. One of the most unforgettable advertising slogans of all time was that of owning “The American Dream“.
Take a Closer Look!
While most consumers would say that they ultimately make purchasing decisions, many are desensitized to the effects advertising has on our psyche. Often time’s consumers would prefer to see clever ads, persuading us to buy this and use that. Through catchy tunes and jingles, appealing celebrity endorsements, and comical and racy ads, the public is subjected to the desires of acquiring a particular product, ultimately fulfilling the goals of advertising companies. The clever media effect strategies that are implemented may be more convincing, and unseen than insight allows us to realize.
Why Does This Look Familiar?
Research suggests that our minds are prone to the power of suggestion through repetition, and perceptual priming, which has an impact on our decision-making process (Jacoby, 1983). Priming involves an increased unconscious sensitivity to certain stimuli that has been previously experienced.
Psychological suggestion is the tendency for humans to believe any statement based solely on its repetition, not on whether or not the statement holds any truth.
It’s no wonder we constantly see the same billboard slogans, hear the same repetitive commercials, or receive the same newspaper inserts and ads week after week. The simple combination of image and verbal priming interactions, inclusive of psychological relationship suggestion, has influences on consumer feelings, choices and behaviors, whether we know it or not. Less than 1/6th of consumer choices are made at conscious levels of awareness. This leaves marketing and the simple use of suggestive word and image priming to obscure anticipated outcomes, which in the instance of advertising has consumers spending.
It Just Feels Right
Advertising informs, persuades, and influences consumers to purchase certain products. I’m going to use toilet paper as an example (just for the heck of it), but this works for shampoo, detergents, pet products etc. Toilet paper manufactures may claim that their product is designed to leave you clean and fresh, “quilted for softness you can see and feel,” thicker 2 ply, shouldn’t be too rough or too soft, it’s the perfect balance, strong yet gentle on your skin.
These are the types of incentives we consciously think about when buying a toilet paper product. However, ads also do other things like showing the product next to things that might elicit positive feelings, such as fresh flowers, cute babies, puppies, teddy-bears sunshine, smiles, music, etc. Repeatedly showing the toilet paper product and surrounding it with other things we naturally feel good about, can influence us to feel good about a product. This transfer of our feelings from one set of items to another is called affective conditioning.
People are busy and it’s hard to know if we are making the right choices when it comes to certain aspects of our lives, but what helps guide us in making many of our decisions are our feelings. Generally, if something feels right or feels safe then things will likely turn out alright, and this may be a great way to go. The problem exists when we aren’t able to decipher what we think makes us feel good from what actually makes us feel good. So next time you are out shopping, take a second to think about why you buy what you buy. It may actually surprise you!
Fitzsimons, G. J., Hutchinson, J. W., Williams, P., Alba, J. W., Chartrand, T. L., Huber, J. (2002). Non-conscious influences on consumer choice. Marketing Letters, 13, 269-279.
Jacoby, L. L. (1983). Perceptual enhancement: Persistent effects of an experience. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 9, 21-38. doi: 10.1037/0278-73220.127.116.11
Nosek, B. A., & Banaji, M. R. (2001). The go/no-go association task. Social Cognition, 19, 625-664.
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