Should Marketing Firms Be Hiring Psych Majors?

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Okay… maybe not. But marketing firms should know the huge role that basic psychological concepts play in marketing. Everything we do as marketers is based on how we believe the consumer will perceive, and then react to, the content we put out. Understanding the basic functions of the brain and what drives motivation will help improve the quality and relevance of your content, and in turn, increase your engagement.

Advertising and psychology have gone hand in hand for years, and one of the most common aspects of psychology we see in marketing is conditioning.

Do you remember learning about Pavlov and his salivating dogs back in high school psychology? Ivan Pavlov was a physiologist who conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Did you know what Pavlov did is exactly what a marketer is does to a consumer with advertising?

Well, not exactly. While we don’t want consumers drooling on their screens, we do want them to associate positive emotions with a brand. Marketers first start by linking an “unconditioned” stimulus (which elicits an “unconditioned response” or a positive emotion) to a product, so that when they see the product on shelves in stores, they feel positive emotions. For example, Coca-Cola’s ads using Christmas as an unconditioned stimulus. The brand uses positive emotions naturally associated with Christmas to associate positive emotions with the products. Consumers see Christmas and Coca-Cola together over and over again, thus becoming conditioned to associate the happiness and excitement they usually feel about Christmas with the neutral emotions they feel about Coca-Cola. When they see Coca-Cola on the shelves in stores, they feel positive emotions and are more compelled to purchase it.

This theory is called classical conditioning, and it has been subtly used in advertising for centuries. Happy music playing in the background of a commercial? Classical conditioning. The blonde girls in the Carl’s Jr. ads? Classical conditioning. Attractive or successful athletes in Nike ads? Classical conditioning. Everywhere you look in the world of marketing, there is an aspect of psychology—or more specifically conditioning.

Understanding how emotions play into the buying decisions we make as consumers is incredibly important to converting clicks and making sales. Working classical conditioning into your advertisements could change the success rate of your agency beyond your wildest dreams.

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