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 function of our nervous system is to make us aware of the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, etc, of the objects in our environment, and the more sensations we receive from an object the better we know it. The nervous system which does not respond to sound or to any other of the sensible qualities is a defective nervous system. Advertisements are sometimes spoken of as the nervous system of the business world. That advertisement of musical instruments which contains nothing to awaken images of sound is a defective adverthement. That advertisement of foods which contains nothing to awaken images of taste is a defective advertisenient. 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.

A person can he appealed to most easily and most effectively through his dominating imagery. Thus one who has visual images that are very clear and distinct appreciates descriptions of scenes. The one who has strong auditory imagery delights in having auditory images awakened. It is in general best to awaken as many different classes of images as possible, for in this way variety is given, and each reader is appealed to in the sort of imagery which is the most pleasing to him, in which he thinks most readily, and by means of which he is most easily influenced.

One of the great weaknesses of the present day advertising is found in the fact that the writer of the advertisement fails to appeal thus indirectly to the senses. How many advertisers describe a piano so vividly that the reader can hear it? How many food products are so described that the reader can taste the food? How many advertisements describe a perfume so that the reader can smell it? How many describe an undergarment so that the reader can feel the pleasant contact with his body? Many advertisers seem never to have thought of this, and make no attempt at such descriptions.

The cause of this deficiency is twofold. In the first place, it is not easy in type to appeal to any other sense than that of sight. Other than visual images are difficult to awaken when the means employed is the printed page. In the second place, the individual writers are deficient in certain forms of mental imagery, and therefore are not adepts in describing articles in terms which to themselves are not significant. This second ground for failure in writing effective advertisemerits will be made clear by the examples taken from current advertisements which are quoted below.

A piano is primarily not a thing to look at or an object for profitable investment, but it is a musical instrument. It might be beautiful and cheap, but still be very undesirable. The chief thing about a piano is the quality of its tone. Many advertisers of pianos do not seem to have the slightest appreciation of this fact.

When they attempt to describe a piano they seem as men groping in the dark. Their statements are general and meaningless. As an example of such a failure the advertisement of the Knabe Piano is typical:—


Its successful growth and experience of nearly seventy years guarantees to new friends the greatest degree to tried and tested excellence, judged from any standpoint of criticism or comparison.


This is a half-page advertisement, but it contains no illustration, makes no reference to tone or to any other quality of music, and does not even suggest that the Knabe is a musical instrument at all. Many advertisers describe the appearance and durability of the case or the cost of the entire instrument, but ordinarily their statements are so general that the advertisement could be applied equally well to perfumes, fountain pens, bicycles, automobiles, snuff, or sausages, but would be equally inefficient if used to advertise any of them. They do not describe or refer in any way to the essential characteristics of a piano. They awaken no images of sound; they do not make us hear a piano in our imagination.

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.

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