The Psychological Principles of Advertising

Advertisements permeate every aspect of people's lives.
Advertisements permeate every aspect of people's lives. (Image: Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Advertising is heavily based on psychology. Whether an advertisement is a success depends largely on whether it appeals to the human heart and mind. According to Walter Scott, an assistant psychology professor at Northwestern University, an advertisement writer has "to influence the human mind." To influence a human mind, an advertiser has to be aware of some basic psychological principles that govern human reasoning.


People make buying decisions emotionally. The motivation behind a purchase may be a feeling, thought or need. While designing an advertisement, a creator needs to ask: "What is the emotion that would motivate the decision to buy this particular product or service?" At the same time, people need to rationalize their decision. They need to find reasons to perceive the purchase as a good investment. In other words, the product needs to be of good quality and provide a long-lasting benefit.

Hidden Desire

Every person wants something, be it fame, love, wealth or safety. When advertising a product, uncover those common desires and make the product desirable. Make the product the answer to common human needs like beauty, safety and functionality. Functionality, or practicality, is important for contemporary people who lead busy lives and need the merchandise that they have bought to fulfill a particular purpose and simplify their lives.


People are naturally egocentric. They consider a product in terms of whether it is good for them and to what degree. They also want to be appreciated by other people, so their decision is dictated largely by what other people perceive as desirable. They have the tendency to follow the crowd. That is why when you are creating an ad, it is crucial to consider common trends, tastes and fashion.

Level of Risk

People do not like risk. They want to gain while avoiding risk. Therefore, the advertisement needs to present a product or service as safe. A successful ad would answer questions such as: " Does it work?", "Does anybody else buy this?", "Can I return it?" in an amicable, but explicit way. Including testimonials or free returns policies can mediate some of the fear connected with buying. Also, the very process of buying has to be portrayed in a pleasant and risk-free way. In other words, the stuff has to be depicted as friendly and helpful.

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