Chapter 1
 Chapter 2
 Chapter 3
 Chapter 4
 Chapter 5
 Chapter 6
 Chapter 7
 Chapter 8
 Chapter 9
 Chapter 10
 Chapter 11
 Chapter 12




Advertising is a topic with which we are all familiar. Even so, you may not fully appreciate its many subtle effects on attitudes and behavior. This chapter explores the psychology of advertising, its effects, and ethics. The first section introduces the myth of subliminal persuasion. It defines subliminal perception and reviews research that debunks the idea that advertising has subliminal effects. The psychology of low consumer involvement is then discussed in detail. Mere exposure, associational concepts, and the ELM's peripheral processing are described and concretely applied to advertising. Readers should gain an appreciation of how advertising uses psychological appeals to shape and change attitudes. The next section focuses on high involvement, applying functional theories to advertising of more highly involving products. All this leads to a discussion of the ethics of advertising, as well as to a description of how advertising has been used to sell classic American products from cigarettes to coca cola.


Myth of subliminal advertising effects
Subliminal perception
Subliminal advertising
Self-fulfilling prophecy
Mere exposure
Associational appeals
Classical conditioning
ELM's applications to advertising
Functional theory and advertising
Personality and advertising
Ethics of advertising

Product placement
Third-person effect


Subliminal perception: perception without awareness of the object being perceived. It is "sub-limen" or below the limen or hypothetical threshold of conscious awareness.
Subliminal advertisement: informal term that refers to an ad that includes a brief, specific message that cannot be perceived at a normal level of conscious awareness. (Strictly speaking, the ad is not subliminal, but perception is; however, for purposes of shedding light on the subliminal myth, the term is used in the book.)
Self-fulfilling prophecy: the notion that if you expect something to occur, sometimes it will -- but not because of an objective incident, but because you altered your thoughts in anticipation, and the cognitive changes influenced behavior.
Mere exposure: psychological theory stipulating that repeated exposure to a neutral stimulus leads to liking.
Classical conditioning: the time-honored theory of association that says pairing an unconditioned stimulus with a conditioned stimulus leads to the conditioned stimulus's eliciting the same response originally evoked by the unconditioned stimulus.
Semiotics: the study of signs and symbols; a qualitative approach that sheds light on how symbols acquire meaning.
Product placement: a paid communication about a product that is designed to influence audience attitudes about the brand through the deliberate and subtle insertion of a product into media entertainment programming.
Third-person effect: perceptual distortion in which people exaggerate media effects on others, while minimizing influences on themselves. It is also associated with the perception that mass media have strong influences, which can lead to indirect effects of media on attitudes.


  1. Does advertising essentially shape attitudes in fundamental ways, or does it reinforce preferences people already have? If the former, are such influences nefarious and sinister, as critics suggest; if the latter, is advertising as innocuous as defenders sometimes argue?
  2. Explore the complex implications of the Elaboration Likelihood Model for advertising. What does the model predict? What does it say about the role played by involvement? How can advertising source and message factors perform multiple functions -- that is, serve as an argument, cue, or catalyst for thinking? Consider how such factors as attractiveness and mood-state might perform different functions under different conditions.
  3. Review implications of functional theory for advertising. If we know the functions a product serves, what does this suggest about devising specific appeals?
  4. Cigarette marketing is unethical. Defend this statement or criticize it, taking into arguments presented in the book, as well as your own thoughts.
  5. How is advertising adapting to current technology? Taking into account live Internet commercials, ads on cell phones, and similar strategies, discuss whether these ads work in psychologically different ways than television commercials. Do people process interactive ads differently than older fare? What directions do you believe advertising will take in the next five to 10 years?


  1. Subliminal persuasion occurs when:
    a. people are influenced by sexy, erotic images
    b. the association between a sign and symbol changes attitudes
    c. people are influenced by stimuli of which they are not aware
    d. negative advertising influences people
  2. Assume for a moment that a group of people, who are told they are watching a subliminal ad for aspirin, report that they feel better after watching the ad. This is probably because of:
    a. the expectations produced by the subliminal ad -- the power of self-fulfilling prophecies
    b. hidden effects of subliminal ads on unconscious processes
    c. strong emotional effects of subliminal messages
    d. ability of advertisers to implant ideas into people's heads that cure pain
  3. Mere exposure works best when used to promote:
    a. products people are familiar with
    b. products people dislike
    c. expensive, big-ticket items
    d. neutral, novel products
  4. According to semiotics, (a) have no inherent meaning, but (b) have value and emotional power.
    a. (a) signs; (b) symbols
    b. (a) symbols; (b) signs
    c. (a) ideas; (b) products
    d. (a) squares; (b) triangles
  5. Let's say that a celebrity track star endorses a brand of tennis shoes. According to the elaboration likelihood model, which of these is true?
    a. the athlete serves as a peripheral cue, as celebrities are processed peripherally
    b. the athlete's endorsement will be ignored as consumers base decisions on the merit of the shoes
    c. the endorsement could function as an argument for some viewers and a peripheral cue for others
    d. the celebrity endorsement is a subliminal stimulus that has unconscious effects
  6. If marketers discover that people are buying a Body Shop soap to express a pro-environmental ideology, they are best advised to develop which of these appeals:
    a. social adjustive
    b. value-expressive
    c. knowledge
    d. ego-defensive

Answers: 1: c, 2: a, 3: d, 4: a, 5: c, 6: b


  1. Explore the ways symbols function in advertising. Watch ads for such products as sneakers, soft drinks, or jeans (or, if you have time, consult books on advertising history, or on such icons as the Nike swoosh, McDonald's Golden Arches, or Coke and Pepsi). How does advertising carefully hone symbols to promote attitudes toward these products? How are they also selling American values? Is this a good or bad thing?
  2. Examine how people process ads differently when they are high or low in involvement. You could measure involvement informally by asking people how much they care about a series of products -- ranging from convenience goods to cars. Or you could measure involvement more formally by locating one of several scales of consumer involvement (see Mittal's review piece listed in the book's references). Ask people to tell you how they decided to purchase a product under low involvement conditions, -- that is, how they decided to buy a particular product that was, for them, low involvement. Do the same for high involvement. What do you discover?
  3. View a host of movies and video games that use product placements. Keep a log of the product placements, examining their visual or auditory appeal and centrality to the plot. Dream up an experiment to examine their effects on audience members.


Cigarettes have been icons of American culture. The following article looks at how tobacco companies sold cigarettes to Americans through the time-honored billboard:

"Lost horizons: The billboard prepares to give up smoking," by Barry Meier, The New York Times, April 19, 1999, pp. A1, A20.

After reading the article and the chapter, what insights do you have about how tobacco companies used persuasion to advertise cigarettes? More generally, how have tobacco companies implemented persuasion approaches to convince Americans that cigarettes are attractive items? Or how they have built on smokers' attraction to cigarettes to reinforce smokers' habits? You will gain further insight on these questions by reading Allan M. Brandt's book, The cigarette century: The rise, fall, and deadly persistence of the product that defined America. (New York: Basic Books, 2007).

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