January 24, 2020 in Research
Classic Conditioning in Advertising

The modern reality is unthinkable without advertisement – the information reasoned in the favor of a specific decision, which is focused on the potential buyer and is distributed through the public channels and sources. Unlike pure information, advertisement uses various means of persuasion to provide preferences in a competitive environment. One of such means is classical conditioning. In the terms of physiology, conditioning is the process of development of the new behavioral skills by the modification of an association between stimulus and response to it. In the case of classical conditioning, a stimulus is usually not accompanied by any particular response and must be repeated until there is a response to the first stimulus (the conditioned reflex). However, the process of conditioning in advertising is not always clear, making it somewhat difficult to assess the efficiency of a particular commercial. Therefore, the following work is dedicated to the study of classical conditioning in marketing and advertising by using the example of the commercials and ads for the two following products – the television commercial of Crest Complete toothpaste and the print ad of Zest Body Wash shower gel.

The protagonist of Crest Complete commercial is an attractive young woman. This fact makes it clear that this ad primarily targets women since they may identify themselves with her. The woman is shown brushing her teeth and then drinking a beverage, which, however, does not affect the whiteness of her smile. This idea is expressed in the commercial in the following phrase: “…you are ready for whenever the day brings.” In the end, she shares a kiss with a handsome young man. This commercial is based on the idea of self-confidence, provoking the viewers’ imagination and senses (e.g. putting themselves at the place of the woman) and forcing them to build a protective response, i.e. the acquisition of a product to remove any negative experiences.

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The print ads cannot provide the same level of presentation as the television commercials. Nevertheless, their stimulating and motivating effect is no less significant, which is demonstrated by the ad for Zest Body Wash. The advertisement features Craig Heyward, a well-known American football fullback pointing at the viewer, as well as the following line: “I challenge you to get more lather with Zest Body Wash”. The very style of this ad makes it clear that it targets men that lead an active lifestyle and are concerned about their hygiene. It should be noted that on the photo, Craig Heyward looks and points directly forward. As a result, the person viewing the ad experiences an optical illusion, which is manifested in the feeling that the eyes of the celebrity are watching him/her no matter the angle the picture is viewed from. The index finger is playing the same role – it always points straight on the viewer. In the combination with the abovementioned slogan, the ad challenges the person to purchase and try out Zest Body Wash.

It should be noted that both ads utilize the certain elements of classical conditioning. In particular, the Crest Complete toothpaste commercial associates beautiful white smile with attractiveness while the ad for Zest Body Wash presents a challenge for one’s manliness. The frequent display of such advertising, both on TV and in magazines, is intended for the formation of a conditioned reflex when the specific needs are associated with a certain brand. The impact of advertising is primarily directed at the consumer’s subconscious. For this purpose, such stimuli as an increased emotional background (a scene of kiss in Crest Complete commercial) and special visual effects (the index finger and stare of Craig Heyward in Zest Body Wash print ad) are widely used. However, despite certain differences in the approach to the potential customer, both ads are based on a single psychophysiological mechanism – the dominant principle. In particular, the presence of a successful or attractive person in the ad results in the association of the consumers’ viewpoints with this person’s success (in case of Zest Body Wash) or appearance (in case of Crest Complete). As a result, they may adopt the similar viewpoint to reach the similar level of success or attractiveness. After some time, the dominant decays while leaving behind the stereotypes of perception, thinking, and consumer behavior. These stereotypes can influence the decision-making process, often in defiance of logic. The frequent repetition of words and images creates a stereotypical view of the high quality of any product, thus resulting in the emergence of a conditioned reflex.

Thus, it is possible to say that both of the reviewed commercials utilize the principles of classical conditioning, using visual and verbal stimuli in order to create the connection between a particular need (namely, the need for being a successful or an attractive person similar to the people shown in the commercial) and a particular brand. However, the effect can be improved even further by introducing several additional stimuli, as well as removing certain elements from the mentioned ads.

As was mentioned before, Crest Complete commercial is primarily aimed at women. It should be noted that for them, the most significant experiences and stimuli are associated with the perception of speech as well as the other sounds. However, Crest Complete commercial primarily relies on the visual presentation while its narration lacks catchphrases that can be identified with the product. Moreover, the background music is somewhat bland. Thus, in order to strengthen the effect the commercial will have on the women, it is possible to add certain sound effect to it – a short yet recognizable melody consisting of the several notes that can be played at the very end of the commercial. After the several views, it will become associated with Crest Complete toothpaste in the consumer’s subconscious and will result in the corresponding response when it is heard again (e.g. at the shopping mall).

As for the Zest Body Wash printed ad, it is possible to say that it holds too much unnecessary information about the product that is presented in the form of a text in the middle of the leaflet. This text is printed with a small, rather unappealing and bland font, which takes about a fourth part of the entire page. Given the fact that men usually perceive visual information as a whole, without fixing their attention on the small details, it is unlikely they will read the text. In fact, it may even be distracting, reducing the overall efficiency of the advertisement. Therefore, it can be removed in favor of the picture of Craig Heyward and the mentioned slogan.

As a conclusion, it is possible to say that despite its rather concealed nature, classical conditioning plays a significant role in the advertisement. In particular, it may result in a shift in the consumer’s attitude towards certain products, making him/her an avid buyer. The primary problem of classical conditioning is the selection of an appropriate stimulus. Moreover, there is no ultimate solution for it as each target auditory requires specific motivation. Therefore, as was demonstrated earlier, in order for the advertisement to be efficient (i.e. form a positive conditional reflex), the psychological peculiarities of a certain target group are to be taken into account when designing a commercial. Otherwise, the response for the stimulus will be negative, resulting in the drop of the popularity of a product, and, therefore, the profitability of the company that manufactures it.


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