21 Ways Advertisers Are Manipulating You And You Don't Even Know It

We are exposed to 5,000 advertisements a day. They come at us in many different ways, and we should know what they’re trying to doing to us.

1. They use sexual imagery to hook us chemically


When we see someone attractive, our body’s natural response is to release hormones. Our mind will then subconsciously link those positive feelings with whatever product is on the screen. That’s why companies will find any reason to show some skin, even if their product has nothing to do with it.


2. They attach themselves to causes we already care about


Brands use “cause marketing” to seem human and caring, when in reality, they are often less generous than they appear.

The NFL recently came under scrutiny when it was revealed that only 8.01% of their pink merchandise sales was going to fund breast cancer research. That’s a rather shameful figure, given they are using cancer victims to make a profit.


3. They make us feel insecure about our bodies


If advertisers can make us feel inadequate, we will find a way to fill the void. This is notorious in the world of beauty products, where the only difference between you and the photoshopped models is a few choice purchases.


4. They confuse us with pseudoscience


Advertisers love to throw out scientific-sounding jargon and vaguely cite research to make their product seem more credible. Often times, what they say is just technically true enough to be legal.


5. They intentionally make commercials look unscripted


Taking advantage of the public’s love for reality-based anything, more and more companies are making their commercials look amateurish and less scripted. This creates a more personal sales pitch.


6. They invent feelings you never had before


Once upon a time, nobody cared about diamonds, or deodorant, or a host of other products. Advertisers invented a need for them, simply by telling us that they were irreplaceable aspects of everyday life. And we believed them.


7. They use social media to seem more human


Strategically placed between your friends’ Wall posts and Tweets are messages from companies that want to sell you something. Since everybody’s on social media now, the idea that big corporations are surfing Facebook and Tumblr “just like us” was an inevitable one.


8. They use colors to arouse emotions in us


Color theory is an established science, and advertisers use it exceptionally well. Certain colors make us feel a certain way. Red stimulates our appetite, for example. Whatever emotion a brand wants you to feel, they’ll choose the perfect color to amplify it.


9. They lure us in with powerful scents


This is Abercrombie & Fitch. If you’ve ever been inside one, you can probably imagine what it smells like. Our olfactory cortex (where we process smells) is embedded in our brain’s limbic system (where we process emotions). That means that our body creates strong emotional ties to scents, and ultimately brands.


Axe Body Spray wasn’t lying when they said, “scent is the strongest sense tied to memory.”


10. They win us over with music


Music is another great way to evoke emotions. In 2012, OK Go released the music video forNeeding Getting, a song made entirely of sounds from the new Chevy Sonic. It’s part of a new era where products can even influence the art that sells them.


11. They distract us with cutesy mascots


One of the main purposes of advertising is to differentiate parody products (products which are ultimately the same). Mascots are a great way to do this. They give a voice and a face to a brand that ultimately offers the same thing as the competition.


12. They use humor to hide how bad their products are for you


Everyone loves a good laugh, and brands that market unhealthy products like junk food (Doritos, Hershey’s, etc.) and alcohol (Bud Light) know this better than anybody. They use talented script writers to grab our attention with silly jokes and clever gags, but the bleak reality is that nobody should allow their mouths anywhere near these products.


13. They play the nostalgia card perfectly


Remember the good ol’ days? Advertisers sure hope you do, since products that bring back positive memories of the past tend to do very well in the present.


14. They create a sense of urgency with limited time offers


A phenomenon called “prospect theory” explains that people are more emotionally attached to losing out on something than gaining it. Limited time offers exploit that, because nobody wants to lose out on an amazing deal that won’t be around by this time next week.


15. They beat you down with the same ads over and over again

15. They beat you down with the same ads over and over again

The 3/7/27  Rule of Branding explains that if you watch one channel for three hours, you’d probably see the same ad at least ten times. Advertisers are burrowing their product and image deep into your brain, in the hopes that no room is left for you to even think about another product.


16. They cater to popular trends


Yes, those are meme wild postings for a candy brand. Advertisers need to seem culturally relevant, so they often find ways to capitalize on pop culture trends.


17. They know your shopping habits and take advantage of them


Ever notice how milk is always at the back of the store? That’s because dairy products have some of the highest turnover in grocery and convenience stores. By putting them far away, vendors force you to walk through more of the store, increasing your chances of making an impulse purchase.


18. They throw endless adorable kids in your face


Kids are adorable and advertisers know this. If they can make us feel positive by showing cute kids saying cute things, such as in AT&T’s “It’s Not Complicated” series of ads, they can slip in their product and link those happy feelings to their brand.


19. They offer rebates knowing that most people won’t claim them


Rebates are a great way for advertisers to lure in customers and get them to buy things they wouldn’t at full price. They know full well many people won’t remember to fill in the paperwork to complete the rebate; only about 50% of rebates over $50 ever get redeemed, while rebates under $10 get redeemed maybe 10% of the time. In short, companies that offer rebates get all the money and lose very little.


20. They invent holidays and pressure you into celebrating them


Many holidays outside of the major ones (Christmas, Thanksgiving) are concocted by advertisers looking to sell cards and gifts. Even long-standing holidays like Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day trace their origins to companies looking to line their pockets by exploiting our sentiments. Thus the phrase “Hallmark Holiday.”

Anyone who has ever eaten out knows that actual fast food is very different from the art featured on television. Countless hours are spent constructing advertisement food, which includes things like gluing sesame seeds to a bun or using dry ice to simulate steam.
In the end, we have reason to be upset. Here is what graffiti artist Banksy has to say on advertising:
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