Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Fall, 1996
Miami University

Social Psychological Factors Underlying the Impact of Advertising

Jon Gresko, Lynn Kennedy, & James Lesniak

Please Note: These materials may be used for research, study, and education, but please credit the authors and source.

     Psychology in advertising has long been used as an effective means to sell a product or service. Understanding the underlying concepts that affect human psychology can help a company better sell their product or alternatively can help a consumer understand marketing strategies that get them to buy products.

     Persuasion is the changing of attitudes by presenting information about another attitude. This information is then processed one of two ways: centrally or peripherally. If it is processed centrally the attitude change is more likely to have permanence. If the information is processed peripherally it will be more susceptible to later change.

         The Elaboration Likelihood Model is a theory that states that there are two routes to persuasion. These two routes may alter a person’s belief structure based on the cognitive processes that occur at the time of persuasion. The two routes are defined as the central and peripheral routes. The central route is an active and conscious process in the determination of the merit of a persuasive argument. During the cognitive processing in the central route, people make favourable and unfavourable thoughts in response to the advocated position. The outcome of this favourable and unfavourable thought processing will determine whether the position that has been advocated holds any merit. The other route, the peripheral route, has to do with the fact people can not exercise careful and effortful analization of every message that they come upon. There simply are too many messages in the environment for there to be a central processing route. There are many variables which affect the likelihood of thinking about the merits of a message and thus the route to persuasion. These variables affect a person’s motivation to think about issue-relevant information and the ability to do the cognitive processing. While, other variables affecting motivation are part of the person and the situation. Some variables affect the direction of thinking(favourable vs. unfavourable) and others affect the overall amount of thinking a person does.

         One commonly used technique of persuasion is that of authority. Everyone has seen ads where "2 out 3 doctors recommend..." This is based on the idea that people will respect the opinions of someone who is assumed to have a lot of knowledge about the product. People feel better knowing that someone with authority has recommended what they are about to buy. Of course, the authority person has to have expert knowledge in that particular field. Would you buy a certain toothpaste because a car salesman recommended it?

         First and foremost an advertisement has to catch your attention. One way in which it does this is by appealing to your emotions. It can arouse feelings of fear, love, pleasure, or vanity. Scarcity is the fear that you may miss an opportunity to purchase a product. "One day sales" and phrases such as, "For a limited time only" or "Limited supply" are common uses of this technique. Health advertisements often utilize fear to get the audiences’ attention. Once this is accomplished they hope to "scare" the audience enough to produce an attitude change, be it buying their product, changing your lifestyle, etc. Beer and cigarette advertisements appeal to peoples’ desires for fun and pleasure. The people in these ads are protrayed as having a good time, leading to the belief that if you purchase these products you too will have a good time. Many advertisements employ more than one technique in attempting to persuade the audience. Plastic surgery ads are a perfect example. They attempt to persuade by appealing to peoples’ vanity/egotism by exposing their fear of aging.  





Learn More About :

Fear in Advertising

Fun and Pleasure in Advertising

Vanity & Egotism in Advertising


     Horowitz, I. & Bordens, K. (1995) Social Psychology. Mayfield Publishing Co. 

     Lamb, Hair, & McDaniel (1996) Marketing. South-Western College Publishing. 

     Leo, John (1991, July 15) Hostility Among the Ice Cube. US News & World Report, p.18. 

     Pratkanis, A. & Aronson, E. (1991). Age of Propaganda. New York: W.H. Freeman & Co.

     Tesser, A. (1995). Advanced Social Psychology. McGraw-Hill, Inc.

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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 17:06:32. This document has been accessed 1 times since April 20, 2002. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman