How Marketers Manipulate Us: Psychological Manipulation in Advertising


Everyone likes to think that they are notaffected by advertisements, but unless you never seen a single advertisement in yourlife, your choices are influenced and affected by all the advertisements you’ve ever seen.Every advertisement changes our opinion on the brand or product. You may see some advertisementswhere you think “why would anyone decide to buy this product after seeing this”,but the purpose of advertisements is no longer to have the consumer immediately pick up thephone and buy the product.

The purpose of these advertisements is not to inform theconsumer about the product and it’s features. The reason companies like McDonalds, who havealmost universal recognition, still advertise is because they are trying to build an opinionand corresponding “brand image” in their consumers minds.There are two main psychological methods that marketers use nowadays for their advertisements.The first method is called the “mere exposure” method. These are those minimalist, bare bonesadvertisements that make you scratch your head and wonder why the company would spendthousands of dollars on them.

It’s because everybody is more comfortable in groups. Ifone line at the bank is considerably longer than the other, people will almost alwaysgo in the longer line, because they think there must be a reason that people chooseone line over the other. They think that one line is better than the other, or one lineis more correct than the other. It’s just an easier and more comfortable decision. It’sthe same kind of idea in consumer psychology. By exposing the consumer to the brand, theconsumer starts to feel like they know it. Because of this, when the consumer goes tothe store to buy detergent, they can reach for Tide and be comfortable in this decision.The Tide detergent might be a couple dollars more than the store brand detergent, but theyknow that this brand detergent will work well. It wouldn’t be such a huge brand if it didn’twork well.

A greater example example of this phenomenon is painkillers and other over thecounter drugs at the pharmacy. The generic brand drugs are the exact same product asthe name brand, with the exact same composition of ingredients. If they had a different compositionof ingredients, they would not be allowed to be called the same drug. Advil and genericibuprofen are the exact same product, with the exact same composition, but still peoplewill buy Advil despite it’s steeper price. It’s just easier to choose what everybodyelse chooses. The consumer tends to be anxious to buy the cheaper, generic brand drug. Doesthis mean that you should always buy the generic brand drugs? Well not necessarily. In a studyby the University of Cincinnati, Parkinson’s disease patients were given two drugs, oneof which they were told was a more expensive, name brand drug, the other being a less expensive,off brand drug. After taking the supposedly more expensive drug, the patients had a 28%greater increase in motor skills than after having taking the supposedly cheaper drug,while in reality both the injections were just saline solution.

The expectations werehigher for name brand drug, therefore the patients felt better because of a placeboeffect. So sometimes spending more will make you feel better.The other common psychological method used in marketing is the “classic conditioning”method. The idea behind this technique came from a study done by Russian physiologistIvan Pavlov in the 1890s. Pavlov noticed that his dogs would start to salivate wheneverhe would enter the room even if he didn’t have food. This was because the dogs had anexpectation that they would receive food when Pavlov came into the room because every timehe did have food he would walk into the room,. Pavlov decided to start ringing a bell wheneverhe gave food to his dogs, and after a while the dogs would, whenever they heard the soundof a bell, start salivating. This is because the dogs were trained to associate the soundof the bell with food coming. They were trained to have the expectation of food. The samepsychological principle works with humans. Brands will try to have certain feelings,reactions, or images associated with their product. If in their advertisements they showcertain images in conjunction with their product, the consumer will subconsciously relate theimages to the product.

The best part of this technique is that it always works. No matterhow much you try to block out the advertisements, as long as you see them, you will start tosubconsciously relate the two images. Car brands are the biggest culprit of using thissneaky technique. Their advertisements rarely have anything to do with the actual car, butrather about someone driving the car. Luxury car brands will show people in black tie pullingup to a red carpet event, while suv advertisements will show some adventurous looking couplewith kayaks and bikes in tow driving on some dirt road. At this point you’re barely buyinga car, but rather a lifestyle. You’re buying into the image of being someone that goesto black tie events, or spends their weekends being adventurous. The car barely mattersat that point, it’s the image that you’re buying.Perhaps the greatest advertising success in recent memory is the beats headphones brand.Beats controls 27% of the $1.8 billion headphone market, despite making, what are generallyagreed upon to be mediocre sounding headphones. The New York Times reported that the actualmanufacturing cost of Beats headphones, which sell for upwards of 250 dollars, is about14 dollars.

The reason Beats are considered such a premium product is because of theirmarketing and brand image. From the beginning, Beats spent a huge amount of money to payfor celebrity sponsorships. All the most famous athletes were wearing Beats in their interviews,so the consumer started to get the idea that these are these were fashionable, high pricedheadphones. The high price; solid, heavy materials; sturdy packaging; and celebrity endorsementsall raised people’s expectations, and likely psychologically made the headphones soundbetter, just like with the name brand medicines.


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