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Psychologically Manipulative Advertising Strategies


This research is based on the psychological effects of advertising on the consumer. The controversial advertising campaigns are intended to provoke discussion of global issues, not to sell clothes. Today, any product is made of two things: a percentage of material and a percentage of image. And the part of the product that is made of image is getting bigger (Luciano Benetton)( Financial Times, 2001). Therefore advertising is getting more tricky and complicated. The picture has great importance to the content of the advertisement because it has the possibility to express feelings. Owing to this, it is very important to be sure that the picture expresses feelings that agree with the strategy of the sender. If not, there is a risk that the picture sends out a message that was not intended (Sidenbladh,E 2000). This not only kills the purpose of the advertisement but fails to impact the consumer’s mind, not to mention the waste of valuable advertising time and the costs attached to it.
Advertising intends to influence people to think a particular way and to apply pressure for consumers to purchase a product. There is a level of understanding of this fact on the part of the consumer, but this does not mean that the people are able to fully control their own reactions. To persuade the receiver is the most important task of the picture. The receiver is meant to think along the line of thoughts that the sender intended to create. It is therefore believed that people’s self-understanding, behaviour and lifestyle would be affected. The picture is intended to remind people about their own and personal lifestyle and experiences. The fact is that we look at a picture in accordance with our own experiences. The consciousness only grasps a small part of all the sight impressions we actually receive. This is where people’s different associations and experiences enter the picture (Hansson et al., 1992). Many of these messages are certainly involuntary, usually coming from the attitudes that are widespread in a society at a given time. These messages are intended to attract the viewer and to guide thier thinking on certain channel with the aim of selling the product and making the consumer believe that are getting the complete package that comprises of the product along with the image attached to it. This may be achieved by giving an impression of what that product may account for in their lives by exaggerating and impressing an image of a certain level of emotional importance that they link to the product.

There are many different communication models that originate from the classical Stimuli-Organization-Response Model (Aaker et al., 1992; Fiske, 1994). As an example we have chosen Edfeldt (1992) because it stresses the influence of disturbance of the sender’s message. The sender should create an advertisement and formulate it in the best possible way, in order to sell the product intended. Already at this stage it might happen that the message changes owing to the simple reason that it is not always so easy to put your thoughts into words and pictures. The sender’s own thoughts have vital importance to how the advertisement will look and through which sender and channel it will be publicized. When the advertisement reaches the sender it will be changed and also be affected by this person’s personal thought; later on it will also be adjusted and might again be changed in some ways, in order to fit the media channel, which is intended. After that the receiver, and hopefully also the consignee, will get the message and in this step it is their thoughts that decide how the advertisement shall be interpreted. Consequently, at every step there are disturbances, which make the process sometimes troublesome.(Andersson, S. 2004)Advertising agencies make use of their knowledge of psychology to come up with campaigns that will appeal to the consumer’s desires and needs.

In an individual society it’s easier to victimise the masses with such kind of an advertisement campaign as compared to multicultural societies. Products like fairness creams are significantly advertised in the sub continent and the advertisements give an impression that people who are dark are less likely to succeed in life as compared to the ones with a lighter skin tone. One of the fair and lovely ads shows how a girl cannot get her dream job only because she is dark and after using this product she get it even without an interview. (Fair and lovely, 27 Feb. 2009) Viewing such an ad will impact the people who have a darker skin and in some cases put them in a complex about their appearance. This in turn will make the consumer believe that in order to live a better life they require the product.

Contrary to that in countries with a predominant Caucasian population tanning lotions are publicised. These products are again publicised sticking with the same concept. The Coppertone Sun Lotion Commercial from 1989 shows a girl walking on the beach alone and lonely and at the sight of the tanning lotion she starts to fantasize of being really sexy and a male attention magnet. (Coppertone Sun Lotion Commercial 1989, 24 Feb. 2009). This kind of an advertising approach impresses that the product being advertised is not just a luxury cosmetic anymore for the consumer but a survival necessity.

Such advertisement campaigns are not taken to be offensive in that particular region and in fact are spot on as these concepts originate from the complexes that originally exist in that particular society. This may also be considered as one of the approaches to this kind of advertising. When the advertisers are dealing with a society like the one in UK that has a mixture of all sorts of cultures using such an advertisement strategy becomes all the more complex and difficult. Some of the ideas might create interest in one particular group of people, while others may be unaffected or worse offended by it. In order to design such a advertising strategy the advertisers may have to have a fairly good knowledge of the way the people think in that particular community which is being targeted.

This study will investigate effectiveness of such advertising campaigns as The message of the advertisements is basically to sell products and to be able to catch the receiver’s attention. Therefore it is important that the sender not only makes sure that the product in the advertisement is successful and is selling, but also is aware of and careful about the picture’s many effects. The values that are spread and how they in turn affect the consumer are important for the future of the product ((Hägg et al., 1972)

Literature review

Impact of media and in particular visuals on a consumer’s mind


Historically, television was assumed to be an excellent vehicle for presenting a message to a relatively captive mass audience (Secunda, 1988). Lead by a large body of research, advertisers often spend noteworthy sums attempting to ensure that certain segments see specific ads enough to prompt some response and spawn the biggest “bang for the buck” (Vakratsas and Ambler, 1999). There has been a lot of research done on the way consumers react and interpret advertisement. This research focuses on the audience as a whole and consumers as a general market. However there has been no research carried out that divides the consumers in regards to their ethnicity and subcultures and study how each of them react to the same kind of an advertisement.

A targeted advertisement is more valuable with the targeted segment because ad characteristics such as actors, symbols, and themes are customized specifically to the characteristics of the targeted consumer segment. Previous research shows that consumers who are members of the group being targeted by an ad are more likely to take a positive interpretive attitude regarding the ad than are members of non-targeted groups (Grier and Brumbaugh, 1999). That is, targeted consumers are likely to create meanings that transmit through the advertisement positively to themselves.

It is a common awareness among the managers of multinational companies that advertising plays a vital role in a building brand. Developing and upholding a sturdy brand in the fullest sense requires much more strategic thinking as brand tools suggest the conceiving of a promise of value for customers and then ensuring that the promise is kept. Building a powerful brand requires determining the substantial characteristics of the contributions that carry the brand name and the payback the customers get from those benefits and the psychological or emotional benefits of the products. This may be described as what “value” means to a typical loyal customer; and what, ultimately, is the crucial nature and character of the brand over time.

A good brand image will result in an increase in the brand equity. Strong brand equity allows the companies to retain customers better, service their needs more effectively, and increase profits. (Rajagopal, 2006)

Consumers often animate brands by donating them with personality traits, and marketers often create or highlight these perceptions by their brand positioning. Brand personality traits provide symbolic meaning or emotional value that can chip in to consumers’ image of the brand.

Human personality traits are determined by multi-dimensional factors like the individual’s behaviour, appearance, attitude and beliefs, and demographic characteristics. Based on the trait theory, (Batra et al. 1993) observed that there are five steady personality dimensions, also called the “Big Five” human personality dimensions. The “Big Five” human personality dimensions are Extroversion/introversion, Agreeableness, Consciousness, Emotional stability, and Culture. Based on these human personality dimensions, Aaker (1997) identifies the new “Big Five” dimensions related to brands. These are Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication, and Ruggedness. This pattern suggests that these brand personality dimensions might operate in different ways or influence consumer preference for different reasons. Sincerity, excitement, and competence represent an innate part of human personality whereas sophistication and ruggedness tap dimensions of individual desire. Hence, the following proposition has been considered as the customers identify brands that have similarity to their own personalities and represent closeness in terms of the psychographic and emotional attributes.( Rajagopal, 2006) This builds the grounds for the psychologically manipulative advertising strategies. Advertisers study carefully these attributes and try to link it to the consumer. Then base the advertisements to target these personality traits in people.

The following discussions in the paper analyze the influence of advertising practices on the buying behaviour of consumers. The discussions in the paper are built around cognitive relationship between the consumer behaviour and communication. There do exist well thought out advertisement strategies that are carefully planned and call upon the values of a closely defined audience or a subculture. Over a period of time, some campaigns can transform the public perceptions, in turn increasing public awareness and changing general perceptions of issues previously overlooked (Rotfield, 2002).

Some subjects that are commonly used as the bases of such sort of an advertising strategy are talked about in the following chapters. These form the basis of psychological manipulative advertising strategies and have an underlined meaning and an impact on the way the consumer not just sees the product but also triggers some emotions that they start to relate to it.


The upcoming and the new focus of advertiser in th fashion advertisement is the homosexual community. With approximately 22-30 million members (Dossi, 2006), or approximately 6-7 percent of American adults (Seckler, 2006), and a combined collective buying power of $641 billion in 2006, the USA gay and lesbian market is commonly considered the “Dream Market” (Packaged Facts, 2004). The average household income for gay/lesbian households is between $60,000 and $79,999, significantly higher than that of their heterosexual counterparts (GL Census, 2005). These figures portray the homosexual community as a substantial market. There for an attractive target for the advertisers and a potential consumer base for the brands.

A recent study addressing this issue investigates heterosexual and homosexual responses to ads containing heterosexual, implicit homosexual and explicit homosexual imagery (Oakenfull and Greenlee, 2005, p. 429). The authors of the study find that the conventional straight audience is alienated by explicit gay and lesbian imagery, but not by implicit gay and lesbian imagery. They also find that the homosexual audience responds equally well to both implicit and explicit gay and lesbian imagery, and therefore suggested using implicit homosexual imagery to reach this audience and at the same instance avoid alienating or worse offending the larger heterosexual population that makes up a far greater percentage of the market. However, In this study the use of implicit versus explicit gay and lesbian imagery in this study did not represent a deviation in the degree of intimacy, and may have caused a level of inaccuracy in interpretation of the results. The ad that represented the implicit imagery used was an actual beer ad containing the symbolism of a pink triangle, a rainbow flag and the slogan, “Another one coming out”, this add does have a implicit under lying message to it but does not really have a level of intimacy attached to it that was meant to be studied, whereas the supposedly explicit imagery showed a kiss on the cheek or the forehead with either a lesbian or a gay male couple, both images were taken from clothing ads. Neither ad primarily contained explicit sexual contact, and could have portrayed to be a non-sexual relationship.( Dotson M.J, et al. 2009)

Based on the findings of Dotson M.J it is suggested that If narrow targeting is possible, it is preferable to the use of crossover ads. If one’s primary audience consists of straight males, one might not wish to use ads with any homosexual themes. There is perhaps wider freedom with a straight female audience who may be more tolerant of ambiguous homosexual imagery. If one’s primary audience is gay and lesbian, evident depictions of primarily gay males and lesbians, especially androgynous depictions, are recommended. If management wishes to use crossover appeals in a publication that appeals to both gays and straights, ambiguous subtle approaches would appear to be most appropriate (Dotson M.J, et al. 2009).


Gender is one of another tools that can be used for this kind of an advertising approach and plays an important role in how ads are perceived. Both the gender of the audience as well as the gender of the models presented in the ads (Oakenfull and Greenlee, 2005) is of equal value. The relations between genders may have important implications for marketers. Advertisers often place the same advertisement in multiple media outlets, and rely on it communicate a specialized message to each audience (Penaloza, 1996). This could be a problem or a gamble both at the same time. It may be a problem as all the media might not be aiming to the same kind of a consumer in terms of background and mental and emotional levels, therefore the message may be interpreted differently by the variance in the market that is being targeted. It may be a gamble as the advertisers are trying to reach out to a wider demographic with the same advertisement this could be a hit or miss situation depending on the type advertisement and the consumer it is targeting.

Advertisers usually use gender stereotypes and gender-linked traits (a collection of psychological characteristics and behaviours characterizing men and women) and gender roles activities differentially appropriate for men or women in advertisements (An.D and kim S. 2007). Usually gender role depictions of women as dependent and emotional have been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes and having adverse effects on a wide range of behaviours (Bretl and Cantor, 1988). Specifically, Jones (1991) summarized instances of subtle stereotyping in advertisements:

• functional ranking

– the ability to depict men in executive roles and as more functional when collaborating with women;

• relative size

– the inclination to depict men as taller and larger than women, except in the case when women are clearly superior in social status;

• reutilization of subordination

– an surplus of images of women lying on floors and beds or as objects of men’s mock assaults;

• the feminine touch

– the tendency to show women cradling and caressing the surface of objects with their fingers; and

• Family

– fathers depicted as physically distant from their families or as relating primarily to sons, and mothers depicted as relating primarily to daughters.
(An.D and kim S. 2007)

In the past content analysis has been used as a major research method to investigate gender roles portrayed in advertising (Cooper-Chen, 1995). Since, there has been such high levels of research in this particular area, its is not fair to provide a complete review in a few paragraphs (for articles based on the review , see Courtney and Whipple, 1983; Furnham and Mak, 1999. In the first study of this particular subject, Courtney and Lockeretz (1971) reported that US magazine advertisements depicted woman for having a place only in the household, and also did not consider them of a great value to make important decisions, and thus highly dependent on the opposite sex for that matter. In the next few decades, quite a few studies based on the subject (McArthur and Resko, 1975; Belkaoui and Belkaoui, 1976; Whipple and Courtney, 1985; Gilly, 1988; Bretl and Cantor, 1988; Mazzella et al., 1992; Kramer and Knupfer, 1997; Furnham and Mak, 1999; Furnham et al., 2000) also portrayed and examined this depiction of woman in US magazine and television advertising. This research implied the status of woman and their role to be more of a passive nature, secondary to men, and thus dependent on men, and not capable of making important decisions, depicting their lack of brainpower and authority, younger, appealing, self-enhancing, and ornamental. Such stereotyping in the portrayal of women has continued into the mid-1990s although percentage of women shown as professionals and managers has made modest gains since the late 1950s (Cheng, 1997). The role of women was also brought forward as for being an attention grabber in advertisements, women were quiet often shown as objects of sex (Soley and Kurzbard, 1986; Ferguson et al., 1990; Klassen et al., 1993).
While most researchers were mainly focusing and paying attention to the role of women, another research has observed the portrayal of men and women appearing in advertisements together (Wiles and Tjernlund, 1991; Klassen et al., 1993; Zotos and Lysonski, 1994) or male positioning solely (Wolheter and Lammers, 1980; Skelly and Lundstrom, 1981; Kolbe and Albanese, 1996). These studies generally implied that men are depicted in categorically dissimilar ways as authoritative, sovereign, professional, self-directed, outdoor, middle-aged, argumentative, practical, and pleasurable. Comparative studies showed that the difference in the portrayal of the two sexes was in the presentation (i.e. men were kept in the forground as the main focus as the women provided to be a back ground) of the type of products advertised (e.g. men were used for technical products or women for the purpose of household products). Other researchers (Soley and Kurzbard, 1986; Bretl and Cantor, 1988; Ferguson et al., 1990; Klassen et al., 1993) observed that the advertisers had made some development in the ways both the genders are advertised, mainly in the depiction of women in a less domesticated way (e.g. regular representations of women in more professional and corporate ways) perhaps due to the increasing feminine movements along with “raising” of feminist consciousness (Ford and LaTour, 1993).

In this observation the cases’ studied the impact that the consumer psychology had on the way advertisers approach their advertising campaigns. This also suggested that the advertisers don’t just use advertising to make people believe in things but at times use underlying norms prevailing in the society to structure the advertising campaigns in order to relate to the audiences and reach out to them. Hence leaving an impact on the way they view things.


Another key aspect that advertisers especially in the fashion arena use to impact and attract the consumers’ attention is celebrities. From the work of Langmeyer and Shank (1994), we can define this assemble not only comprise objective beauty, but also non-physical beauty, such as sportsmanship, charm, grace, intelligence and credibility. A good-looking celebrity is more likely to be a more powerful foundation of a brand’s image due to the advantage of their celebrity standing and their physical attractiveness (Kamins, 1990). In research that has investigated physical attractiveness showed that physically attractive celebrities have a positive effect on the products and brands with which they are linked to. As an example, after thoroughly reviewing the literature, Joseph (1982) states that physically attractive celebrities have a positive effect on the way the product is perceived and looked upon. In another study Kahle and Homer (1985) discover that the celebrity’s attractiveness can improve the way the brand is remembered, what the brand promises and the attractiveness of a brand. In an even more current study, Till and Busler (1998) bring to a close that the use of an attractive representative for the brand has positive effects, on the attitude of the consumers targeted, towards the brand. One of the findings from these observations is that the attractive sources tend to attract more attention than other less attractive sources. Therefore they are able to communicate the meaning with more effectiveness. Building on from these findings, we can say that the more attractive the celebrity, the more the image of the endorsed product will benefit.

An example of an advertising campaign where the attractiveness-image of a celebrity has been linked with the image of the brand and used as a psychologically impacting tool for the consumer is the Star Ambassador campaign by a renowned watchmaker Omega. This ad champagne features supermodel Cindy Crawford and Formula One racing driver Michael Schumacher. Crawford’s who is renowned for her beauty, and Schumacher’s for his outstanding driving abilities makes them extremely eye-catching and very noticeable in their professions and beyond. These attributes make these celebrities ideal ambassadors for Omega’s products (see Omega, 2004). Considering this it is safe to say that celebrity attractiveness has a positive relationship with brand image (seno.d, et al 2007).

In a study carried out by Klaus et al. It suggested that, women in particular responded more positively and had a more favourable attitude towards, celebrities in the advertisements.(Klaus N et al, 2008). This research also showed that male and female consumers responded more favourably to adverts with female celebrities, with male participants providing a more favourable response than female participants, but finds only limited interaction effects, in terms of differences between male and female participants’ attitudes, evaluations, and responses, to adverts with male and female celebrities.(Klaus N et al, 2008) This research observed the impact of this manipulation approach in advertising on male and female consumers.

Goldsmith et al. (2000) define celebrity standing in the context of advertising as the extent to which a celebrity is “perceived as possessing expertise relevant to the communication topic and can be trusted to give an objective opinion on the subject”. This shows that the careful selection of a celebrity to represent a product is crucial, as the celebrity has to have some level of relation to the way the product is preceded by the consumer. It could be in terms of the trust that the consumers hold with the celebrity or the authenticity and the sincerity of the opinion of that particular celebrity on the subject of that product.

Expertise and trustworthiness are the most important aspects of celebrity credibility. When consumers evaluate these aspects of a particular celebrity, they echo on the soundness of the pronouncements made by that celebrity. There is a level of trust between the celebrity and the consumer. The trust being that the consumer believes in the credibility of what the celebrity is endorsing (e.g.Hovland et al., 1953). The more the consumer is in favour of these celebrity credibility constituents, the celebrity endorser in turn is seen to be a more convincing source for the representation of that information about the product and also as an authentic representation for that brand (e.g. Ohanian, 1990). After a careful study of the literature on this area, Goldsmith et al. (2000) conclude by saying that the assumed credibility of a particular celebrity has a positive impact, in respect to convincing consumers and influencing consumer attitudes, towards the products with which the celebrity is associated.
One such example of a celebrity whose credibility coincides with that of a brand’s image is John Travolta (actor). He endorses the Australian airlines (Qantas). John Travolta as an individual has a passion for airplanes and aviation. He has a commercial pilot license and also owns a Boeing 707. Considering all this, John Travolta is therefore considered to be a convincing aviation expert. Therefore, the Australian airline (Qantas) values John Travolta as a celebrity endorser for their brand (Gotting, 2002). From what has been discussed above, it could be said that celebrity credibility has a positive relation to the image of the brand. As brand image has a positive relation to brand equity, It can be said that celebrity credibility has an indirect but yet a positive effect on brand equity (seno.d, et al 2007). This research emphasises and proves the importance of such kind of an advertising approach and its positive appeal to not only the brand image but also the brand equity.

Importance of consumer behaviour

Consumer behaviour can be defined as ‘the study of the process involved when individuals or groups, select, purchase, use or dispose of products, services, ideas or experiences to satisfy needs and desires’ (Solomon et al., 2002). From a marketing perspective, an understanding of consumer behaviour can help marketers to come up with marketing strategies that successfully aim the group being targeted while fulfilling their business objectives. In order to come to a decision the consumer processes the information conveyed to them which in turn triggers a response including feelings and emotions. These messages, usually in form of images, ‘ either present and attractive personality for the product or indirectly suggest to the consumer that they can acquire a certain style by using a particular brand’ (Duncan, 2002). As an affect of the advertisements consumers relate products and brands to lifestyles or quality. The emotional experience is becoming a crucial part of advertising in today’s world marketing communicators require a good understanding of these responses and implications in order to be able to foresee the effectiveness of brand messages (Ducan,2002).

Cultural diversity in the UK

At present marketers supporting ethnic communities are building brand awareness by using central symbolisms to reach ethnic consumers (Holland and Gentery, 1999). The marketers tend to use the stereotypical image of the ethnic minorities as a base for their advertisements. The inevitable stereotypical portrayal of ethnic minorities in intercultural communications results in a wide range of emotional responses and attributes regarding the motifs of marketers (Holland and Ball, 1995). At the same time the negative responses feared as a result of stereotyping regardless of the intention, may be one of the reasons as to why marketers are slow to catch on the ethnic marketing practices (Burton, 2002), also the uncertainty of marketers in how to approach ethnic consumers (Gooding, 1998). From the literature already discussed shows that the advertisers have put quiet a lot of effort in studying the consumer psychology as a whole and in the past have proved to be helpful to the marketers, however very little effort has been put in the past to study the diversity of the market in terms of ethnicity.

One such study lead by Holland and Gentry (1999:67) suggested that irrespective of the degree of acculturation of an ethnic individual, they still tend to ‘ maintain expressive symbols of ethnicity and cultural traditions, whilst…..adapting or renegotiating them to fit into present day society.’ The study of these attributes can open a new window of opportunity for the advertisers to reach out to such individuals at a more personal level. In this context the expression to be used goes beyond the symbolic expression, whereas ethnic individuals hand pick parts of their cultural past with the intention of adopting them to the present day society or in other words come up with a hybrid between the two cultures that they coexist in at the same time at more of a psychological level.

The strength of ethnic identification is shown to have a significant effect on audience evaluation of advertisements (Greg, 1997), and in turn is more likely to influence the way the information in the advertisements is perceived and subsequently the implications it may have on marketing related decisions (Green, 1999). Donthu and Cherian (1992) discovered that the measure of ethnic identification may be of great significance to the consumer purchase behaviour. Whittler (1991) suggested that individuals with a high ethnic identification had strong cultural attitudes attached to them, therefore are more likely to be affected by the race or origin of the model. Green (1999) discovered in his study that African Americans were more probable to have a positive assessment of an advertisement featuring models from the same race.

Advertisers in their attempts to market a product look for the target markets approval for that particular advertisement though when targeting ethnic minorities they should emphasise more on the use of cultural symbols that are closer to that of the target audiences (Holland and Gentry, 1999). Koslow et al. (1994) observed that using Spanish language in advertisements was linked to positive consumer perceptions towards the advertiser’s sensitivity towards the Hispanic culture. Therefore it could be said that strong ethnic identifiers are likely to trigger a stronger emotional response to the advertisements that depict some sort of cultural attributes (Holland and Gentry, 1999, Green, 1999). Green’s (1999) research findings suggested that ‘the individual’s feelings towards advertisements depend on the degree of identification with their ethnic group’. The proposition of this study would be to the advertisers that there should be a great deal of emphasis on the media strategy which would imply that the main focus should be on their target audience rather than on the creative strategy i.e. the use of black/white models. Green (1999) suggested that advertising in the local publications was more effective in regards to national publications when advertising to an ethnic minority. It was also observed that the Asian markets responded better to the ethnic based advertisements irrespective of the type of media (Kinra, 1997).

On the other hand the representation of ethnic actors has increased greatly in the media that there is now an over representation of the ethnic minorities in the media as compared to their proportion in the society (Taylor and Stern, 1997). Thi

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