Commercials are annoying and very few of them are even interesting. However, despite what you may think, they are very effective. With an understanding of how the brain and memory works, commercials are able to make you remember their products, services, and ideologies without you even doing much conscious work. For example, how familiar are the slogans “I’m lovin’ it, taste the rainbow, the quicker picker upper, like a good neighbor State Farm is there, or got milk?” It’s no coincidence that you remember catchy slogans and it’s also not hard to think back and remember, very specifically, the contents of commercials you’ve seen in the past. This is done to, whether you realize or not, evoke a desired behavior or opinion of you.
Companies who design these ads are using a bit of cognitive psychology to force the viewers to pay attention and remember parts of the advertisement. One strategy that used to be very common was the repeating of the company’s phone number at the end of an advertisement. It probably is not hard to think back to a commercial when a company repeated their number 3, 4, or even 5 times at the end of their commercial. As surprising as it seems, this isn’t done to annoy you. The working memory of the brain is much better at remembering numbers through repetition. According to the digit-span task, most people can remember 7, + or – 2, numbers after being told them. For comparison, a phone number is made of 10 numbers. Simply repeating those numbers over and over forces the brain to keep the phone number in the working memory. This is also why companies will coordinate their phone number to spell out a word. It is much easier to remember to call Marks & Harrison at 1-800-win-win1 (which I remember off the top of my head) than 1-800-247-8629.
Along with repeating how to contact the advertiser, it is very common to see the same commercial over and over and over and over and over again until you can say every single word in sync with it. This is also keeps the company in your working memory, but over time it will work the companies message into your long-term memory to the point where when you get hungry you think of McDonalds, and on your way there, you are thinking about how you’re going to be “lovin’ it”. The re-playing of these ads forces you to keep thinking about them and eventually make them a part of your life. This is especially true if you are unaware with the product or unsure if you want to partake in it (psychologyformarketers). The repetition of “I’m lovin’ it” just may make you believe that you’re lovin’ it. “There was a study from Microsoft investigating the optimal number of exposures required for audio messages. They concluded between 6 and 20 was best” (thefinancialbrand). This means that when you’re watching tv and the same commercial keeps coming on, it could be shaping the way you see the product and what you end up buying later. After all, the more something is repeated, the more truth seems to hold (even if it is not true at all).
Companies also know how to grab people’s attention to make them focus on their advertisement. There is a reason why it is so easy to remember all of the funny Doritos commercials or those really sad commercials of the puppies for the SPCA. It is much easier to grab someone’s attention by playing to their emotions than it is to provide facts to be interpreted (thepsychologyofdecisionmaking). Quite frankly, people are lazy, and it takes a lot of work to logically interpret in order to form opinions. However, it’s easy to see that those guys in that Dorito commercial were having a great time and to assume that if I buy Doritos then ill be as cool as them.
One of the main reason’s these strategies work so well is because nobody thinks they will work on them (thepsychologyofdecisionmaking). Everyone thinks “no those may work on other people, but not me”. Being unaware of how these advertisements are affecting you only blinds you to the signs. Collectively, these strategies, accompanied by many more are what make advertisements so effective. Though they may be annoying people, they are also shaping them.
Ajzen, I. (1996). The social psychology of decision making. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (ch. 7). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Pilcher, Jeffery. “Say It Again: Messages Are More Effective When Repeated.” The Financial Brand, 13 Nov. 2014, thefinancialbrand.com/42323/advertising-marketing-messages-effective-frequency/.
Kay, Magda. “How to Use Cognitive Biases for Effective Marketing.” Psychology for Marketers, 30 May 2017, psychologyformarketers.com/use-cognitive-biases-effective-marketing/.