Advertising Psychology

Advertising psychology is the study of how consumers decide to make purchases.

Advertising psychology is the study of how consumers make purchase decisions and how those purchase decisions can be influenced. It is similar to the fields of consumer behavior and consumer decision making. Psychologists who study advertising psychology work in a variety of settings, including academic research settings, for marketing companies, and for marketing departments of larger companies.

There are a wide variety of topics that advertising psychologists may work on. Many researchers in this area work to understand basic mechanisms about how consumers make purchase decisions. This is generally divided into at least two stages: the decision about whether to make a purchase, and then once the consumer has decided to make a purchase, the decision about which item that meets the consumer's requirements to buy.

Advertising can have a strong effect on both the purchase decision and the choice of product. Some types of items consumers are highly likely to buy even without seeing any advertising, such as milk, bread, and shoes. However, other items many consumers would not consider purchasing were it not for advertising. For example, when the Apple iPod was first released, many consumers were happy with their portable CD players until seeing ads for the new iPod. Suddenly, the CD players did not seem adequate. Without seeing advertisements that made the new technology look appealing and indispensable, few consumers would likely have gone to electronics stores to buy the new product.

Once consumers have decided to buy a product, advertising can have a significant impact on the item they finally choose to purchase. For example, a consumer whose car has recently stopped working is looking to purchase a replacement. The consumer may see a variety of advertisements for cars and put the ones that appeal on a list of vehicles to test drive. Other good cars that were not made salient through advertising may not be seriously considered.

Many researchers studying advertising psychology study what kinds of messages appeal to consumers. For example they investigate what colors are the most attention-catching and have found that reds and yellows are generally the most effective at selling food products (which is why many major fast-food chains prominently feature those colors). They may study what kind of spokespeople different groups of consumers can most relate to and what kinds of messages make a spokesperson sound convincing. Researchers also investigate what kinds of fonts invoke feelings of luxury, health, trustworthiness, and other feelings, and where consumers usually look first on a billboard. Advertising is an enormous, complex business, and advertising psychology is there to do research and make recommendations across all its various platforms.

Advertising psychologists also do research on how the platform on which the advertisement appears affects perceptions and which channels are most effective for promoting which types of products. They may study magazine, television, radio, billboard, and online advertising, as well as advertising through the sponsorship of sporting or other events. Some advertising psychology researchers investigate the impact of advertising done through streaming video services, which allow consumers to watch television shows and movies on their computers, tablets, and phones as well as on their televisions. This is an interesting area of study, as consumers used to use the long, enforced advertising breaks during normal television programming to make snacks, use the bathroom, and do other tasks. When only one or two commercials are presented at a time attention may be higher, and different types of advertising may be more effective.

Not only do advertising psychologists work in research settings, many work in industry settings helping to develop and assess the effectiveness of advertising campaigns. In these settings advertising psychologists stay up-to-date on the latest advertising psychology research and apply new findings to advertising their own firms’ goods and services. Sometimes individuals working for firms develop novel advertising ideas, such as short-term pop-up stores to introduce a new product, and implement and test their effectiveness without the benefit of prior academic research on the topic.

See also Educational psychology ; Organizational psychology.



Fennis, Bob, and Wolfgang Stroebe. The Psychology of Advertising, 2nd ed. New York: Psychology Press, 2016.

Kardes, Frank, et al. Consumer Behavior, 2nd ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015.

Mothersbaugh, David, and Del Hawkins. Consumer Behavior: Building Marketing Strategy, 13th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2016.

Schiffman, Leon, and Joseph Wisenblit. Consumer Behavior, 11th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2015.


American Psychological Association. “Advertising as Science.” (accessed September 14, 2015).

Scott, Walter. “The Psychology of Advertising.” The Atlantic. (accessed September 14, 2015).


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