Do you need a psychology degree to be a good advertiser? A lot of people think so. Dr Walter Scott cites an advertising journal that dates back to 1895 that contained an editorial that stated: “Probably when we are a little more enlightened, the advertisement writer… will study psychology.” The reason being that advertisers have to know the human mind in order to influence it. Well, it’s over 100 years later and psychology is still not an advertising requirement, but most advertising qualifications include some psychological aspects.
Boiled down to its most basic, advertising is consumer manipulation. Sometimes the manipulation is subtle and sometimes it’s downright blatant but the end result is the same: a message that tries to influence our behaviour by using imagery to appeal to us on an emotional level. According to Dr Scott, mental imagery plays a huge roll in advertising particularly when it comes to radio and newspaper ads.
It can be argued that TV ads have an unfair advantage over other advertising mediums. Moving pictures can be much more effective than stills or no pictures at all. Colours are brighter, characters easier to relate to, sound complements images and settings are more diverse. Radio and newspaper advertising, on the other hand, are more limited and advertisers have to work harder to be effective.
Scott compares advertising to the human nervous system. Our nervous systems allow us to fully sense the world around us – we hear, see, smell and feel. Advertising needs to serve the same purpose; it needs to enable us to hear, see, smell and feel the products concerned by way of powerful mental imagery.
Think of restaurant ads; what tricks do they use to make you want to drop everything and head on over for a bite to eat?
They sell the sizzle not the steak, don’t they?
They know that you can’t smell the food cooking, but an image of a perfectly juicy steak sizzling on a grill will make your mouth water as you remember the smell. The colours are always sharp because nothing kills an appetite quite like a tired tomato garnish and grey gristle. If they use people in the ads they’re never so good looking as to be out of reach – you can imagine being one of them or joining them for a meal and not feeling like the ugly duckling.
Radio is also a great medium because you don’t really need to see good food to imagine how delicious it tastes. All you need is the sizzle accompanied by a strong script. A strong script is essential if you want to stimulate memory and desire. Steaks are thick and juicy; chicken is tender and succulent. Words are just as powerful as creating imagery and invoking emotions as images, which is why you can’t settle for a so-so script or mediocre content. If you can’t make your audience feel the sun, smell the sea and hear the waves, how are you going to sell summer holidays?
Claude Hopkins says that psychology can help advertisers learn that certain effects lead to certain reactions, which they can use to achieve certain aims. He suggests that curiosity is a strong motivator. If you can make your audience curious you can get them hooked and they’ll want to make the effort to find out more.
Jon Gresko, Lynn Kennedy and James Lesniak tout the power of persuasion from an authority figure. This is especially important if you’re selling something health related. Vanity is also a powerful tool in the advertising arsenal.
Psychology may not be part of the advertising curriculum yet, but without some knowledge of what makes people tick the job is that much more difficult.