Here’s another approach to understanding how adverts work – cognitive psychology, as discussed in this Wired article from 2002 (thanks Lauren!)
You’ll probably not be surprised that I’ve lots of sympathy for experimenal psychology as a method for understanding adverts (as opposed to, say, semiotics). A conventional experimental cognitive psychology approach to understanding something about advertising would be:
1. Have an idea, e.g., I think Factor X makes people buy more stuff
2. Come up with an experiment which involves two situations which are identical except for the presence/absence of Factor X.
3. Include some measure which is a good enouch approximation for the behaviour ‘buying’ (it could be actual purchases, or it could be something like memory for the product, or extent of positive feelings for the product, which we just assume will convert into sales)
4. Do the experiment, write up the results, let the rest of the (psychology) world criticise your experiment
5. Do follow-up experiments to re-test your idea and counter criticisms.
Or something like that anyway. Here’s an example from the Wired article:
One example: At the University of Texas at Austin, cognitive science professor Art Markman gave a group of hungry people a few bites of popcorn. Another group got no food. Then he showed his volunteers pictures of products