The Influence of Advertising

Dealing with advertising starts with understanding how it works, what it does, and how it intends to influence you.

While you may be taking advertising for granted, it does seek to influence what you spend your money on. Many people don't believe that they're susceptible to being influenced, let alone manipulated, by advertising. However, it wouldn't be so omnipresent if it didn't work.

Advertisers hide the manipulative parts of advertising, because people will not accept it if they notice being manipulated. It needs to appear innocent in order to have an influence.

So how does advertising influence people?

Advertising as information

An obvious reason for advertising is simply informing people of the existence of products they might be interested in buying. No one will buy something that they don't know exists, no doubt about that. When more people know about a product, more of it will be sold.

I remember an ad from an advertising agency that was about advertising itself. They said that it was good that there is advertising, as it is an important source of information about products. If that were all, most people would embrace advertising as a welcome addition to their lives.

However, advertising is obviously not a source of objective information. The bright side of a company's products is highlighted exclusively. No ad will list both the pros and cons of a product. It is also not exactly a source of complete information, as the amount of actual information in ads is usually very minimal, if, in fact, there is any real information at all. So, ads are not particularly trustworthy as information.

But advertising goes much further than being a limited form of information.

Influencing valuation

Judging by the extensive use of praise for products in ads, advertisers do expect that people will be influenced by the positive valuation. So apparently a significant amount of people do believe the praise is somehow real, even though it comes from a copy writer of an advertising agency, paid for my the manufacturer of the product.

While other people may believe that doesn't affect them much, what does happen is that they get to know about positive valuations, while negative valuations are mostly absent. The latter is not because the product isn't experienced as negative by some people, but because one doesn't hear of them. The net effect is that one is not unwilling to buy, or at least try, the product.

So it's good to get some more objective opinions about products, like from reviews, or from someone who will not just say she likes something just to hide shame about a bad choice.

Familiarizing with products

With advertising emphasizing only the positive aspects of products, one might forget that not only are there also negative aspects, but a product might not even be what we really want or need.

We are more willing to go with what's familiar than with what's not. Advertising familiarizes us with products and brands. It does so in a positive only context, attempting to keep us open to this familiarization process.

When we only know about particular products, selecting a product to satisfy a particular need could come down to choosing from the list of advertised products only. But sometimes, psychological needs can be satisfied somewhat by products, but may be satisfied even better by other things. When we feel without self-worth, buying a prestigious car may for some time make us feel valuable, but there are other ways as well to increase that sense of worth, like paying more attention to our feelings and life circumstances.

Brand recognition

It is not only specific products that advertisers want us to feel as familiar. They particularly want to familiarize us with brands. This is why brand logos are everywhere. Not only on the products themselves, but on trucks, pens, shirts, caps, and lots, lots of ads. The influence is ubiquitous, but unobtrusive.

So when you are considering a choice between products, it is good to beware not to choose just on the basis of familiarity of a brand. If you know a brand simply because you've seen the logo everywhere, you are letting marketers decide for you.

Life style identification

Lots of advertising connects a product or brand with a particular life style. People who identify with that lifestyle, will feel attracted to these products. When you feel like "such and such" a person, and an ad or commercial values that, you'll feel willing to buy the product or brand, even if it isn't presented that prominently in the ad. You'll believe you like the product because it is "like you."

Sex sells

As the saying goes "sex sells." Advertisers will put sexy women next to cars, let handsome actors tell how great a product is, or have women in bikini show how great the beach is.

For men, sexy and attractive women in ads will grab your attention. Instantly, and without a need to explain anything. And that is what advertisers want, instantly having our attention, as their message by itself is to most of us not really that interesting.



If you'd like to go deeper into this topic, these books might be of interest to you: