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The Psychological Effects of Advertising 

By Selena McIntyre


Have you ever wondered why people buy the things that they do?  Do you think that psychology plays a major role in our purchasing behaviors?  This article will teach you how to understand consumers’ lifestyles, and it will show you how to make your ads appeal to people in each phase of life.


First, let's take a brief look at the psychological stages of life, also known as Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. (Abraham Maslow was a psychologist that studied successful people.)  According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, we all have five major types of needs or stages of life that are listed below:


Stage One - Physiological needs are the basic parts of life such as food, water, shelter, air, and sleep.


Stage Two - Safety needs are feeling safe and secure inside your home, feeling financially secure, and having safe relationships with friends and family members.


Stage Three - Love and belonging needs are the ways you are accepted into the groups you want to be in, and the relationships you have with your friends and family.  It is also the desire we have to be needed.


Stage Four - Esteem needs are self esteem, giving and receiving respect, wanting power and control, as well as the need to feel valuable.


Stage Five - Self-Actualization - In this stage, one feels that they have become everything that they possibly can.  If you reach this stage you will have extreme amounts of peace, knowledge, and self fulfillment.


Maslow said that once you have met the needs of stage 1 you can go on to stage 2 then to stage 3, and so on.  Maslow's studies also showed us that people in the lower levels will do violent things (steal, lie, cheat) in order to fulfill these needs and move on to the next level. 


Translating Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs into advertising techniques and consumer buying habits


In order to sell a product or service, you must make consumers want your product.  Contrary to belief, consumers don't have to need your product or service in order to purchase it.  Research has shown that people usually buy products that they want before they buy products that they actually need.  In order for consumers to want your product you must understand their needs and lifestyles.  Here's a look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs from an advertisers point of view.


Stage One - Physiological needs 


People that are in Stage One probably do not have a lot of money.  Food, shelter and transportation should be their main priorities.  So they will buy cheaper things even if the quality is not very good because they can't afford better quality items.  These people are attracted to anything that will save them money.


A good example of people in Stage One is the popular reality series, "Survivor."  In this television show, 16 people are put on a remote island and must provide their own shelter, food and water.  If you have watched this television show, you will see that the people look for food and water as soon as they get to this desert island.  Shelter is usually the next thing the "survivors" search for.  Other things (luxuries) seem minor to these people because they know they need food and water in order to survive.


Stage Two - Safety needs 


Consumers in Stage Two need to feel that they will be safe in the present times and in the future.  They will purchase items to help them feel secure like retirement funds, self-defense classes, and self-defense videos and books.  They will also buy things like nanny cameras, guns, and alarm systems to help protect their families and possessions.


Going back to the "Survivor" example, after everyone receives food, water, and shelter they can start to focus on other things, like winning the game.  In order to win the game, cast members must build secure relationships with the other team members so they will not be voted off the island. (At the end of every episode cast members vote to send one person home, which means that particular person has lost the game and the $1 Million prize.)


Stage Three - Love and belonging needs 


Acceptance is also a big part of this phase.  Everyone likes to fit in with other people, and nobody wants to be labeled as strange, unusual or weird.  People in this stage of life will follow the current trends so that they'll be accepted by their peers.


Stage three is also the stage where people desire to be with other people.  This can mean friends, family, significant others, or all of the above.  Most people do not like to be alone all of the time and are attracted to items that will make them more pleasant to other people, specifically the opposite sex.


People in stage three will usually purchase the following items for the following reasons:

magazines and anything else that will keep them updated with the latest trends, name brand items, and trendy clothes to help them fit in and be accepted by their peers, perfumes, colognes, make-up, satin sheets, and sexy clothes to attract the opposite sex and gain love, self improvement books to avoid criticism and be accepted


By this time the "Survivor" members are learning about each other and forming friendships.  Group acceptance has become very important in this game.  Usually the first few people to get voted off the island (and lose the game) have done something that the group did not agree with.  The cast members have realized that they must try to fit in with the other people on the island so they will not lose the game.


Stage Four - Esteem needs 


Once we reach stage four, we are ready to take better care of ourselves.  We do things to for ourselves because we want to do them, not because Vogue Magazine said that it's the "in thing."


Individuality is important to these people because they are happy with themselves, have good self esteem and do not want to be like everyone else.  These people will dress nice to attract praise because it makes them feel better about themselves.


Consumers in this group want others to respect them, look up to them, and value them.


People in stage four will purchase some of the following items for the following reasons:

Work-Out Equipment and healthy foods to become healthier, Books to help them become their own boss because they want to have power and control, Online financial investments to have complete control over their financial portfolios, Anti-Aging cosmetics so they can look younger and have more control on the aging (or not aging as quickly) process, Expensive clothes, cars, etc. so they will have the power to feel superior to others


While using our "Survivor" example, we will see that towards the end of the game, leadership roles become very important.  By this time, there is usually one cast member that has gained the respect of most of the remaining cast members.  This person usually persuades the others to vote the way he or she wants them to.  This powerful leader finds ways to control the entire group, and usually wins the game.


Stage Five - Self-Actualization 


This is the final stage, and sadly many people will never reach this part of life.  However, the people that do reach stage five are happy with themselves, and the lives they have lived.  They purchase things that give them enjoyment and things that will give enjoyment to others.


People in stage five will purchase some of the following items for the following reasons:

Art, flowers, and other beautiful things to nourish their souls (Perhaps this is why we see so many elderly people working in their flower beds so often.), Cruises and other trips so they can enjoy themselves, Charity items and spontaneous gifts for others because a self-actualized person feels joy when other people are happy


Our "Survivor" example ends with the final episode.  The final votes are in, and the winner is announced.  This person wins $1 million and usually a brand new vehicle.



Selena McIntyre has been a Creative Designer for BPS Outdoor Media since 1999. She has a Marketing Degree and several years of customer service experience. Selena has studied art most of her life and continues to do so now. She designs most of BPS’s billboards and has written several articles about the outdoor advertising industry. To see some of her work please visit http://www.bpsoutdoor.com/blog/



This article is provided as a courtesy from www.OutdoorBillboard.com


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