The Unconscious Consumer

Are advertisements effective? Do they succeed in persuading viewers to buy their products or services?

The advertisement industry has quickly caught on to the fact that displaying product description in ads just wasn’t as effective. What is effective however is the use of new psychological persuasive techniques to relate to the consumer and tap into their desires, aspirations, fears and insecurities. 

It wasn’t long till most marketers caught on to the persuasive power of drawing on more powerful emotions to drive purchases. The question became how much choice is really offered to individuals, to make true free decisions on what to purchase and was it possible to persuade people into doing something that is against their interest? And finally, what are the ethical implications and responsibilities of those who persuade?


Freud argues “The behaviour of human beings is shaped by a number of basic drives, many of them unconscious – they are unconscious because they are repressed, being deemed unacceptable by our conscious selves.” And Edward Bernays further expands on the notion of the unconscious drive his uncle Freud introduced by saying: “human behaviour is often driven by unconscious drives rather than conscious, rational choices and that people are not always aware of these drives. Bernay states that there are many unconscious triggers that motivate consumer actions and purchases such as the desire to live long lives, to be successful, to be loved and admired [Julie sedivy].Marketers have taken advantage of this phenomenon, as demonstrated by the following ads: 


This ad from WWF is using the element of fear to persuade people to act against climate change. The use of the visual metaphor of consuming the future as consuming future children elicits anxiety and fear within parents especially and people in general.

Once again, this anti-smoking ad campaign plays on the emotion of fear and the desire to live with the visual metaphor of a cigarette smoke strangling the smoker. 



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