How Advertising Can Make Use of Cognitive Biases

Whether you want to admit it or not, the human mind is deeply flawed. Our brains evolved to recognize patterns, deal with threats, and keep us alive in a world that was constantly trying to kill us—and unfortunately, that’s led to some unpleasant side effects in a world filled with communication, technology, and relatively luxurious living.

These hard-wired leftover side effects, cognitive biases, affect our daily behaviors, actions, and decisions, oftentimes without us ever noticing. If you’re an advertiser, you can make use of these biases to make your ads more persuasive—and if you’re a consumer, you can learn more about them to guard yourself against their effects. When you make purchasing decisions, big or small, you’ll want to make the most objective, rational choices you can, and that requires you to actively acknowledge and work to compensate for your biases. That’s why many homebuyers work with top property management companies in Houston and other major cities, and why consumers often check with a spouse or family member before making another major purchase; it helps to have someone less biased share their opinions with you.

These are just some of the most common biases exploited in advertising today.

Anchoring

Anchoring bias makes us disproportionately value an object based on numbers we’ve been exposed to in the recent past—even if those numbers have nothing to do with the object. For example, if I told a group of people “10 monkeys are crossing the road,” and another group that “1,000 monkeys are crossing the road,” then asked each group to estimate the value of a bottle of wine, the group exposed to the “1,000 monkeys” condition would likely price the bottle higher. You can use this creatively in advertising to make your products seem like they’re worth more than they truly are.

Loss Aversion

Loss has a disproportionate effect on the human psyche when compared to gains. For example, people tend to be more upset by losing $1,000 they already owned than they are excited by winning $1,000. You can use this in your ads to make people feel as if they’re missing out, or as if they’re losing something by not engaging with your material.

The Picture Superiority Effect

The picture superiority effect is quite simple, and you’ve likely experienced it firsthand; pictures are more memorable than words, in nearly all situations. People are far more likely to remember a unique image, whether it’s a stock photo or an artist’s illustration, than they are a block of text. You can use this to your advantage by making sure there’s a visual element to as many of your advertisements as possible.

The Framing Effect

Framing has a powerful effect on how we perceive an item, radically altering our perceptions without telling an untruth. For example, would you rather choose a parachute with a 95 percent success rate, or a parachute with a 5 percent failure rate? Chances are, you’d choose the former, even if you consciously recognize that both parachutes have the same odds of success. Make sure you emphasize the positive when framing your own products in advertisements.

Confirmation Bias

As you’ve likely seen on every social media platform in your arsenal, people are highly predisposed to agree with a piece of information, or value that piece of information, if it aligns with assumptions they’ve already developed; this is due to the effects of confirmation bias. Essentially, if you can make consumers feel like you agree with their previously existing values and beliefs, they’ll be more likely to trust you—including any other statements you make.

The Bandwagon Effect

People are social creatures, and they’re far more likely to engage with something if they feel like other people are already doing it. They’re more inclined to purchase an item if they see that lots of other people have purchased it before, and they’re more likely to contribute to a conversation if there are lots of other people already contributing to it. You can emphasize this by including more reviews, testimonials, and metrics related to how many people have already worked with your company or organization.

Saliency Bias

There’s also saliency bias, or salience, which makes people focus on a prominent piece of information in a set, and ignore other pieces of information. For example, you might zoom in on a strangely-colored tongue on a person in an image, and not notice that there’s a gorilla in the background. You can use this bias to your advantage by putting your most important information—whether it’s a fact about your company or a visual element—front and center, where people are most likely to prioritize it. It’s also the motivation for the “fine print,” which is often small and out of the way.

These aren’t the only cognitive biases that exist, nor are they the only ones worth exploring in your advertising, but they should give you a good start to understanding the vulnerabilities of the human mind—and how easy it is to persuade other people when you know how their minds work.