Is there a science of advertising?

Does advertising work? If it does work, how does it work? And given this, should we be worried about what advertisers do? These are, broadly, the questions I’m interested in and the topics I am going to be posting about for the next month. Aside from sheer curiousity, I’m chairing a discussion on the topic of advertising and psychology on March 6th at Cafe Scientifique, Sheffield.

Here’s the blurb:


Do adverts work? How do they work? And is it a problem?

Most of us don’t think we’re particularly affected by adverts, but it can’t be for nothing that the advertising industry in the UK spent ¬£13 billion last year trying to change our buying habits, and another couple of billion pounds researching in which are the most effective ways of doing this. Psychologists have spent years trying to predict what makes people behave in certain ways and we’re not that close to an answer – perhaps the advertisers, with their massive budget, have cracked it? And if they have, should we be worried?

This talk will invite the audience to consider what kind of effect advertising has, and how most adverts work. Although ‘subliminal advertising’ is a myth, some recent research does suggests that there are ways our behaviour can be influenced without our full awarenessus of it. What these experiments mean for the freedom of the individual is an open question which hopefully we can consider together.

I genuinely haven’t reached any conclusions on this yet, so I’m looking forward to the discussion, especially as it touches on such tangled issues as freewill and experimental evidence on how our behaviour can be unconsciously affected (Hacks #98, #99 and #100 for those of you with copies of Mind Hacks). And hopefully too, there’ll be an opportunity for some blog-discussion as well. I’m going to cross-post things at both mindhacks.com and at idiolect, although I’ll reserve the more speculative and/or sociological stuff for idiolect. If you’ve anything to say, please chip in, and if you’ve got anything you think I should know about, read or listen to please email me tom [at] mindhacks [dot] com

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