Targeted Advertising: Using Psychology To Make Money

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                Reading the course commentary this week got me to thinking about advertising in general and how much psychology or research must be put behind these carefully crafted advertisements. My father has worked in advertising for decades and often jokes around that his job is to, "Manipulate the minds of the masses." While we take this comment lightly and humorously, there is quite a bit of truth behind it. What really stuck out to me in the course commentary was the section about the milk advertisements with the ever so familiar saying, "Milk. It does a body good."

                The webpage, Social Psychological Factors Underlying the Impact of Advertising gives a quick and comprehensive look at the psychological aspects behind advertising. One of the methods discussed is the "Elaboration Likelihood Model" which is described as a theory that offers two paths to persuade a customer. One path, referred to as the Central Route, presents people with a certain position and attempts to persuade either favorable or unfavorable opinions about this position. The second path, referred to as the Peripheral Route, attempts to overload people with so many messages that there is no way they can consciously analyze all of them.

                While there are many other aspects to tailoring advertisements in order to make them most appealing to their target audience, this webpage certainly gives an interesting and quick break down of the some psychology used. Part of the reason why I find this topic to be so interesting is because it raises some fundamental questions about psychology for me. Psychologists are always looking for the answer to questions regarding human behavior, personality, environmental influences, and so on but they always focus on the ethics of their work. However, using psychology for advertising makes one question how ethical it is to manipulate people into buying certain items.

                The psychology behind advertising has been called into question on more than one occasion, but certainly on of the most famous tactics that has been banned was that of subliminal advertising. Subliminal advertising is when images or words meant to make people desire certain products are placed into advertisements below the threshold of conscious perception. While the brain acknowledges the image or word, the person is not able to consciously acknowledge what they have seen. If the person sees this advertisement enough they will have the brand or product on their mind without realizing how it got there, this in turn increases sales for the companies. This type of advertising technique was banned in the United States in the 1970's out of fear of brainwashing.

                In the end, the core of psychology is to find answers but to do so without causing any permanent harm. As with any science there have been people who have crossed the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable in finding answers or providing results. However the science of Psychology, like other lasting sciences, has kept its self in check and found a way to the desired research and answers without harm to humanity. Advertising lies in a gray area that must be watched carefully to ensure that the techniques used are not too manipulative.



Gresko, J., Kennedy, L., & Lesniak, J. (1996). Social psychological factors underlying the impact of advertising. Retrieved from

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Your article brings up interesting points about the ethical use of advertisements in the general public. One article I found by George M. Zinkhan (1994) discusses different methods used in advertising and whether or not they have a negative impact on society. The journal issue itself has 7 different articles in it that discuss various research topics to test some of the ethical problems that can crop up in advertising. Some of the issues he calls for more research on are: deception in advertising, advertising to children and racial stereotyping to name a few (Zinkhan, 1994). I recommend reading some of the articles in this journal issue. They are pretty interesting reads with regards to advertising ethics.

Zinkhan, G. M. (1994, September). Advertising ethics: Emerging methods and trends. Journal of Advertising, 23(3), 1-4. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from

The information that you brought to light about advertising is quite interesting. Social action is one way that individuals can stimulate collective action in a community. This action can then generate change (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). However, it seems there is a very thin line between what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to generating change through psychology. As you mentioned, subliminal messages can no longer be used for fear of brainwashing. I believe the fair way of advertising is to simply present the information to those who may be interested and let the people make their own decision. I suppose when money comes in to play, fairness is thrown out the window. Do you believe that advertising should be regulated for fairness? Advertising to children is another sensitive topic. From my own experiences, I used to believe that the toys would actually behave as they did on commercials. I was very frustrated to realize that they didn’t. Unfortunately, the “speedy disclaimers” at the end of the commercial went right over my head when I was younger!


Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.

When advertisers start developing ads they look at the consumers and decide are these people invested in using cognitive processing or not. When people are invested, advertisers tend to use the central route to persuasion, which focuses on the most important content for a person who is interested in the product. For example, if someone is in the market for a hybrid car their choice is based off of the practicality of the product over its attractiveness forming cognitive based attitudes. Cognitive based attitudes are best reached using the central route. The catch of these car commercials are not the beauty or how the car will make you feel, but the function and the fuel efficiency. This makes the target group motivated and willing to listen to the commercial since it is about the utilitarian purposes. Commercial such as these give viewers information that will be examined in terms of the facts that were presented and the strength of them to prove a point hopefully leaving the viewer to internalize the content and deem them genuine later on.

When an individual doesn’t pay attention to the meaning of the message but does notice other properties of the message; like the appearance of the spokesperson, the speakers supposed proficiency on the topic, then it is possible that the viewer will be persuaded by other means by using the peripheral route to persuasion. Advertisers tend to use this type of persuasion when selling want products such as deodorants, and make-ups, where they only need to change the viewers’ attitudes for a short time. They tend to use flashy graphics or celebrities to catch the consumers’ attention and not giving any logical or knowledgeable information on the product for the consumers to elaborate on.

It is interesting to find out they band subliminal messaging because for subliminal messaging to work in a laboratory setting the participant must be looking at the correct place, at the time that the image or message is flashed on the screen (PSU, 2012). Most of the time when people are watching TV or films they are not paying enough attention to the right place. Meaning the message is simply never received, even at a subconscious level. People are concerned about subliminal messaging, but they really should be more worried about regular advertising especially with how ads often shape and perpetuate cultural stereotypes (PSU, 2012).


Pennsylvania State University. (2012). Advertising and Persuasion. [Online Lecture]. Retrieved from

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