Social Psychology and Advertising

655 words | 3 page(s)

It seems like it should be enough to appeal to common sense or material culture to get people to buy products. It should be enough for the advertiser to highlight what makes their product so awesome and better than their competitor’s product. However, those two elements are frequently underlined by subtle appeals to or manipulations of social psychology. According to chapter 16, social psychology is the study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are influenced by other people, which sounds an awful lot like advertisers do: influence the thoughts, feelings, and actions of consumers in order to get people to buy their products or services.

In fact, advertisers have long known that psychology is an effective tool for promoting and selling services and products (Gresko, Kennedy, & Lesniak, 2014). Gresko, Kennedy, & Lesniak (2014) observe that understanding human psychology gives companies an edge to sell their products and can help consumers understand marketing strategies and campaigns directed at them. Social psychology is the specific branch of psychology that helps advertisers figure out the best way to influence consumers – or, in other words, persuade consumers. Gresko, Kennedy, & Lesniak (2014), define persuasion as “the changing of attitudes by presenting information about another attitude.” In short, advertisers try to change a consumer’s mind about their product by presenting the opinions of other consumers who (allegedly) like the advertisers’ product. Another way of affecting consumers’ opinions is, according to chapter 16, through cognitive dissonance by creating confusion and tension between attitude and behavior.

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By way of persuading consumers or presenting other positive opinions of their products, advertisers might appeal to certain emotions. John B. Watson, considered to be the founder of behaviorism in America, believed effective advertising appealed to “three innate emotions: love, fear and rage” (Tartakovsky, 2014). Gresko, Kennedy, & Lesniak (2014) agree that appeals to emotions are also a powerful tool for advertisers, though they look at a broader range of emotions including “fear, love, pleasure, or vanity.” Sternberg, as discussed in chapter 16, believed – like Watson and Gresko, Kennedy, and Lesniak – that love is a powerful weapon to use in advertising, though Sternberg’s view of it is very complicated. Chapter 16 discusses how advertisers, using social psychology, also appeal to people’s emotions through prejudices, bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. Advertisers appeal to people’s sense of belonging and preferences for people like them – birds of a feather.

Advertisers also use social influence in the form of conformity and obedience to sway consumers. These build on ideas of people’s need to belong and preferences for people like them, social influence in the form of conformity and obedience play on people’s fears of being too different or the dangers of going outside societal norms or the status quo. Advertisers also know that people will admire certain groups of people (like pro athletes) and will exploit people’s admiration of those groups in order to influence consumers’ behaviors. Chapter 16 states that in terms of obedience, advertisers will use authority figures. Gresko, Kennedy, and Lesniak (2014) also point to the effectiveness of authority figures in advertising because people “feel better knowing that someone with authority has recommended what they are about to buy.”

There are many different ways advertisers can influence, persuade, and appeal to consumers in order to get consumers to buy their products and services. One of the most effective tools in the advertisers’ arsenal is social psychology. Advertisers can exploit, manipulate, and gain a better understanding of consumers through the principles of social psychology. It would appear that in order to compete in the world of advertising, advertisers would need degrees in social psychology to best create marketing strategies and campaigns, since social psychology can equip them with some powerful tools.

  • Gresko, J., Kennedy, L., and Lesniak, J. (2014). Social psychological factors underlying the
    impact of advertising. Retrieved from
  • Tartakovsky, M. (2014). The psychology of advertising. PsychCentral. Retrieved from

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