The Psychology of Advertising

"Advertisements are sometimes spoken of as the nervous system of the business world ... As our nervous system is constructed to give us all the possible sensations from objects, so the advertisenent which is comparable to the nervous system must awaken in the reader as many different kinds of images as the object itself can excite"

The following is a quotation in full of an advertisement of the Vose Piano, but with the words "sewing machine" substituted for "piano." This advertisement, like the one quoted above, contains no illustration, and it will be noted that there is nothing in the text which does not apply equally well to a sewing machine.

Have been Established over 51 Years

They are perfect examples of sewing machine strength. The Construction of the Vose is the result of fifty years of development and the application of the highest mechanical skill to the production of each separate part.

By our easy payment plan, every family in moderate circumstances can own a fine sewing machine. We allow a liberal price for old instruments in exchange, and deliver the sewing machine in your house free of expense. You can deal with us at a distant point the same as in Boston. Send for our descriptive catalogue H, which gives full information.


Many of the advertisements of the Emerson, Weber, Everett, and of a few other piano firms are equally poor attempts to present the desirable features of pianos.

In recent advertisements of the Blasius piano an attempt is made to present a piano as a musical instrument. A music score is used as the background of the advertisement; there is a cut of a young lady playing the piano; and in the text appear these expressions: "Excellent tone," "the sweetest tone I ever heard," "sweet and melodious in tone," "like a grand church organ for power and volume: and a brilliant, sweet-tuned piano in one." Thus the background, the illustration, and the text all unite to awaken images of sound, and to suggest that about a piano which is the real ground for desiring such an instrument.

In determining which foods I shall eat it is a matter of some importance to know how the goods are manufactured, what the prices are, how they are prepared for the table, and whether they are nourishing or harmful to my system. The one essential element, however, is the taste. When I look over a bill of fare I choose what I think will taste good. When I order groceries I order what pleases and tickles my palate. I want the food that makes me smack my lips, that makes my mouth water. Under these circumstances all other considerations are minimized to the extreme.

In advertisements of food products it is surprising to note that many foods are advertised as if they had no taste at all. One would suppose that the food was to be taken by means of a hypodermic injection, and not by the ordinary process of taking the food into the mouth and hence into contact with the organ of taste. The advertisers seem to be at a loss to know what to say about their foods, and so have, in many cases, expressed themselves in such general terms that their advertisements could be applied to any product whatever.

The following is the complete text of a full-page advertisement which appeared in recent magazines. The only change is that here we have substituted "scouring soap" for the name of the commodity:

"The grocer's smile. The smile that won't come off.
More scouring soap the grocer said,
No other brand will do instead;
And o'er his kindly features spread
The smile that won't come off.
Look for the coupon in the package."

The illustration was that of a grocer looking at a package which might as well have been scouring soap as Quaker Oats. There is nothing to suggest taste.

Some advertisers of food are evidently chronic dyspeptics, and take it for granted that all others are in the same condition. They have nothing to say about their foods except that they have wonderful medicinal properties. To me a food which is only healthful savors of hospitals and sickrooms, and is something which a well man would not want.

There are other advertisers who appreciate the epicurean tendency of the ordinary man and woman. They describe food in such a way that we immediately want what they describe. The man who wrote the following advertisement belongs to this class:

"That very old proverb about reaching the heart of a man is best exemplified with Nabisco sugar wafers. A fairy sandwich with an upper and a lower crust of indescribable delicacy, separated with a creamy flavor of lemon, orange, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, or mint. Ask for your favorite flavor."

The picture represents a beautiful young lady presenting a gentleman with the commodity described.

This advertisement has character and individuality. Its statements could not be applied to anything but foods, and, indeed, to nothing but Nabisco. They do not say that Nabisco is healthy, but when I read them I feel sure that Nabisco would agree with me.

This illustration of the way in which one chapter of psychology (Mental Imagery) can be applied to advertising is but one of a score of illustrations which could be given. Psychology has come to be one of the most fascinating of all the sciences, and bids fair to become of as great practical benefit as physics and chemistry. As these latter form the theoretical basis for all forms of industry which have to do with matter, so psychology must form the theoretical basis for all forms of endeavor which deal with mind.

The householder in glancing through his morning paper has his attention caugnt by the more attractive advertisements. The mechanic in going to and from his place of employment whiles away his time in looking at the display cards in the trolley or the elevated cars. The business man can scarcely pass a day without being forced to look at the advertisements which stare at him from the bill boards. The members of the family turn over the advertising pages in their favorite magazine, not because they are forced to, but because they find the advertisements so interesting and instructive. These persons are oblivious to the enormous expense which the merchant has incurred in securing these results. They are unconscious of the fact that the results secured are the ones sought for, and that in planning the advertising campaign the merchant has made a study of the minds of these same householders, mechanics, business men, and members of the family. Advertising is an essential factor in modern business methods, and to advertise wisely the business man must understand the workings of the minds of his customers, and must know how to influence them effectively,—he must know how to apply psychology to advertising.

1On the Psychology of Advertising. Professor HARLOW GALE, author and publisher: Minneapolis, Minn. 1900.

2Mahin's Magazine, Chicago. This magazine contains monthly articles on The Psychology of Advertising.

3 Found in the published proceedings of the various advertising clubs.

4The Theory of Advertising. By WALTER DILL SCOTT. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co. 1903.

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