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Does advertising work?

CMS 120A capstone project

Tue, Apr 30th 2019 12:10 pm

By Kyle Templin

Special to Niagara Frontier Publications

In most cases, advertising has been at what seems like the forefront of our lives as long as we can remember. To some degree we are all so impervious to seeing them that we don't think twice about it. But, has anyone ever stopped to take the time out of their everyday lives to ponder the question: “Does advertising work on me?” At the surface, the obvious answer is yes, or why would they invest millions of dollars a year in advertisement. That question, taken a little deeper, you'd most likely think to yourself, “Ads do not work on me at all, they never make me feel the need to buy what they're selling.” So if that is the case, why do they continue to spend the money on it? The answer is simple, and underlying, the ways that advertising works are so complex, and well thought out, that you don't even know the subtle effects of them, and how they have been doing it for decades.

Hidden Persuasion

In the text “Hidden Persuasion” by Andrews, Van Leeuwen and Van Baaren, they list 33 ways advertisers use psychological techniques to sell a product to us, the consumer. This text will be a focal point throughout. They have deduced that advertisers have a class system of our three most basic needs that allows them further  to properly pick out one of the 33 techniques that would make the most sense based off  the basic three needs. Of all 33 persuasions that Andrews, V.Leeuwen and V.Baaren dive into in their text, there are three stand out types that work the best on the general public: Attractiveness, Fleeting Attraction and last but not least, Promised Land. If we take a quick dive into each different type, the average person could see right away how effective they could be.

Three Needs

The first basic need they have narrowed down are system needs. Though our cognitive system has developed very far as humans, we still have “mental shortcuts” ingrained into our brains that if done properly can trigger behaviors beyond our justifiable control. System needs is the most basic and uncontrollable need of the three. The second is social needs. Inherently being social animals has given ad companies an easy access port for them to take advantage of us through their advertisements. They see that even in our overwhelming day-to-day lives, we still think to be free spirits, but they know inclusion, and guidance is still something every human craves on a physiological level. Easily granting them access to our need for social conformity. The final need is short and sweet, it is self needs. Self needs are important because as the consumer we value them as the most important need. We want things such as great food, lots of money, and safety. Advertisements see this need, and therefore will try very hard to crete ads that give the illusion of safe, and worry free investments.


This is a very well known concept to all of us, our everyday lives are flooded with pictures of beautiful women and men trying to sell us a product. The process they go through is quite simple; they find a person that can fit the best into their categories of: Averageness, Symmetry and Sexual Dimorphism. If you can find a person that can draw attention with merely a glance, you can almost guarantee they will do a double-take and give your ad undivided attention for a few more moments, which is all they will need. When A company understands what is considered attractive universally, they can implement it into any campaign.

Fleeting Attraction

Almost always used as a fear tactic, ad companies love to scare a consumer into thinking a product is needed. The thought of growing old is a scary thing, it can leadeople into making very questionable choices, and more often or no it's the perfect bait as well. A solid general example of this persuasion are ads for jewelry companies. It is as simple as something like this: an old and grey couple walks by a young and happy couple in the park, the camera pans to the younger couple, and then to their hands interlocked, the first thing you will notice is a large diamond ring. Immediately following text appears on the screen saying, “a diamond that will outlast a lifetime's worth of love.” Simple, easy and effective.

Promised Land

Promised land has a very wide range of possibility it can be effectively used in. the general ideology of this persuasion is simply: buy our product and follow us to the promised land. The promise itself can be latent or obvious, but both work on the subconscious. Common implications include things associate to imply sexual fantasy, and can be found in many ads for things like perfumes, colognes and expensive cars.

PhD of Psychology, Jessica Templin

Dr. Templin has been studying the psychology of desire, and persuasion as a focus in her career for years. When asked about the topic of advertising and its link to desire/persuasion, she had this to say: “some expressions, naturally, work better on certain people than others, and that goes for more than just those three (listed above.) One stands out the most from the group and it’s promised land. That has been a staple of advertising since its insemination years ago, and that enough should show its obvious effectiveness.”

Media & Society

In the text “Media & Society” by authors Nicholas Carah and Eric Louw, they raise some very intriguing points on advertising and their goals as a whole. Carah and Louw believe that meaning is man made, and produced industrially. As we talked about earlier, one of the human races most prayed upon needs is the need for acceptance and to fit in, but selling a product is the number one goal. “Factories began to use standardized assembly lines to produce material products like cars. Media institutions also followed these principles, developing routines and processes for producing meaning … structured the way meaning was made and the kind of meanings that cold be made.” said Carah and Louw. In short, much like an assembly line, advertisers merely created the constant droning to fit into societal standards by convincing the general public that they would not be capable of doing so, unless they bough said product. This is very similar to the persuasion type promised land.

PhD of Psychology, Jessica Templin

Much like her thoughts on the persuasions, Dr. Templin believes the creation of meaning is real. “At its surface level, any person could thinking the premise of the creation of meaning is foolishness. Yes it may be true humans had needs and wants before ads were real, but they didn't have the luxuries of today. They didn't have companies constantly up in arms trying to sell this product. So in a sense yes, meaning has always been their, but it never quite held the stature it dos in today's age. With things like social class shown through monetary investments at the forefront of fitting in now”

But does it work?

When Dr. Templin was asked if she genuinely believed in the effectiveness of advertisements, she replied with: “There would be no justifiable reason to continue spending millions on advertisements yearly, and continuously drown us with them if they saw nothing in their numbers that proved they didn't work. Scientifically, of course they do, they play with your emotions and the subconscious, anyone with a  degree in the sciencesould tell you that. There are obvious outliers as well though, sure someone ultimately could not be swayed by ads, but that won't stop them from reading, or looking at them. At this point we could just be so absorbed into advertisements that we'd feel blank if we weren't constantly seeing them.”

Niagara Frontier Publications works with the Niagara University Communication Studies Department to publish the capstone work of students in CMS 120A-B.
These articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of NFP, NU or the communication studies department.
Comments can be sent to the NFP editorial department, care of the managing editor.

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