This man is inside your head.

“It only does everything.”

“Why buy a mattress anywhere else?”

“I’m lovin’ it.”

Chances are, you recognize the products and companies those slogans belong to.

Everyone knows advertising works. Why else would advertisers pay $3 million to showcase their product for 30 seconds during the Superbowl? It’s not a lot of money when you can reach masses of potential consumers, and the Superbowl averages 90 million viewers. Here are some methods advertisers use to successfully sell their product and why these techniques work.


“We’re gonna make America skinny again—one slap at a time!”

You might have laughed when you first heard Vince on the ShamWow and Slap Chop commercials. In both commercials, Vince talks at a fast pace. Infomercials like these are cheesy—and effective.

In 1976, Norman Miller studied the effects of speech on persuasiveness of a message. He found that people were more persuaded when a person spoke at 195 words per minute compared to a regular pace of 102 words per minute. When a person talks at a fast pace, it increases their credibility. You believe they know what they’re talking about. Moreover, in speeches of 195 words per minute listeners can gather the content of the message, but may not have time to closely determine its worth.

Infomercials also use the principle of scarcity. People are more likely to value something when it is limited. “This is an exclusive offer, so call in the next 20 minutes!” Another technique used is reciprocity: if companies do you a favour (e.g. giving you 50% off or including “free” items), you may feel guilty, perhaps obligated to repay their kindness and purchase their product.

Music & animals

If you’ve taken PSY100 you’ve probably learned about the cute images advertisers use to associate their product with warm, fuzzy feelings. These commercials use the principle of classical conditioning. An example of this technique is the toilet paper commercial. The companies shall go unnamed, but we know who they are: playful Labrador puppies or pampered small white kittens staring at you with innocent blue eyes. Just as you go “Awww!”, a stack of toilet paper creeps into the commercial and a voice draws subtle comparisons between the animals and the product.

The formula for these advertisements: cute animals = “Awww!”; cute animals + toilet paper = “Awww!”; and, after seeing the commercial a few times, toilet paper = “Awww!”.

I once looked up a car commercial to find a song featured on it. Many of the car commercial videos I found had approximately a million views. Music makes you feel good. What better way for a company to sell their product than to put you in a good mood with a catchy song? Think of car commercials. They play on your emotions: good music is associated with positive feelings and positive thoughts. When catchy music is repeatedly paired with a product (for example, a car), viewers begin to associate the positive feelings they receive from the music with the car. Eventually, just seeing the car is enough to bring up positive feelings.

“Expert” testimonials

An expert is someone with knowledge and experience on a particular subject. In a toothpaste commercial, the expert is the dentist who talks about plaque and cavity protection. If an expert makes a claim you agree with, or one that sounds plausible, you are likely to consider them credible.

In Proactiv commercials, the experts are the people in the “before” and “after” shots—regular people with persistent acne. When you add young celebrities to commercials like Proactiv, especially when you show evidence of the product working for them, it can lead to feeling attracted to, liking, and relating to the celebrity—and, by association, the product. Vague phrases like “dermatologist-recommended” and “recommended by 4/5 dentists” are persuasive and appeal to people’s sense of trusting authority. A study found that people in public areas were more likely to answer a survey when a person in a lab coat (who was not a doctor or scientist) approached them.

So why do we trust the “expert”? One reason is that, from childhood, we are trained to obey authority (parents, teachers, doctors). When someone seems knowledgeable, our response is to assume we should believe them, unless evidence suggests otherwise.

So what?

The next time you reach for a can of Coke at the store, maybe you’ll think of the commercial featuring polar bears and penguins. You might still purchase the product, but at least you’ll be aware of the effect advertising has on your subconscious. Why does this matter? Advertising techniques are not exclusive to large companies with cash to throw around. You can use these techniques every day. Try using reciprocity to convince a friend to lend you money. If you’re going shopping, eat first (when you’re hungry you tend to buy more). And though this may sound contradictory, if you want someone to like you (romantically or otherwise), get them to do you a favour. They will be more likely to listen to you, remember you, and do you other favours in the future.

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