Social proof, prices ending in 9 or 7, and happy, smiling people that we all want to be like. We think we know every advertising trick in the book right now.
But we are not even close.
Advertisers are masters of applied psychology, always on the look out for new ways to capture your interest and get your clicks. As new research and ideas come from psychology, neuroscience, and the social sciences, advertisers learn new ways to gain your interest and persuade you to click.
Here are 5 of the less well-known ways advertisers are trying to capture you attention and get you to buy.
1. Playing With Our Mirror Neurons
Check out these ad examples from the Facebook Ad Gallery of online ad optimization service AdEspresso:
What do you feel like doing right now?
Running through a ditch full of mud? If so, you have your mirror neurons to thank. Mirror neurons are cells in your brain that fire when you both act and watch someone else perform the same act. When you watch someone throw a ball, the same neurons in your brain that make you throw a ball, parts of your planning and motor cortex, are activated. It's as if your brain thinks you are throwing the ball.
This may seem like an odd thing f or the brain to do, but it makes absolute sense when you think of understanding what other people are doing and learning new skills. By having the same parts of the brain activated for both the watching and the doing the brain can conserve energy and space, and devote the best areas to the task.
So how does advertising use this knowledge? By putting people in certain situations in their ads, then can make you unconsciously want to mimic those people, and therefore also want to use the product they are selling. Check out this ad for yoga classes:
Looking at that ad you would feel compelled to try the same 'twisting triangle' pose, and what better place to do it than at a FREE fitness class!
2. Make You Worry About What You Know
Humans are curious creatures. We are constantly out exploring, trying to learn and discover as much as possible about the world around us. Our online lives are a constant treadmill of satiating this curiosity.
You clicked through this article to find out what you didn't know about advertising. Sites like Inc., Buzzfeed, and Upworthy are entirely geared towards gratifying this curiosity gap, as psychologist George Loewenstein, has termed it. When we don't know about something,we feel compelled to find out that missing piece of information.
This desire can be seen in the brain. When participants in a 2012 study were shown blurry images, parts of their brain associated with conflict and arousal were activated. Only when the images were shown sharply, and their curiosity relieved, did the brain's reward circuit activate.
Advertisers also try and capture your attention by appealing to your curiosity. This ad for Amazon makes you curious as to what exactly the Goldbox Deal of the Day is:
Of course, this can significantly backfire on advertisers (and content providers). If you try to appeal to someones curiosity, you better bridge that curiosity gap when they click through and satiate their need, otherwise they will never click again.
3. The Right Hand Rule
We live in a world of right-handers (dextrarchy?), and therefore the right side rules. Next time you are in the grocery store, make a tally of which side all the items you want are on, right or left. More common goods and higher priced items are on the right, less common and sales products are on the left.
We are naturally drawn to the right side of things, and in particular to the right hand of people. This is where we expect them to be carrying something, so always want to know what they've got. Advertising uses this knowledge, putting the items it wants us to buy in the right hand of the models:
Our love of all that is right goes further than just what hand something is in. We perceive the right hand side of the page as more trustworthy and trust ads placed there more highly. That is why both Google and Facebook serve up their ads in the that right-side column.
4. Raising the Price
Why does an $8 pizza slice taste better than a $4 pizza slice? It could be better ingredients, better equipment, or the skill of the pizza maker.
Or it could just be the price.
Another pricing strategy that flies in the face of conventional wisdom is that raising the price of an item can actually make people want to buy it more.
New research has shown that we enjoy food more when we pay more for it. Researchers carried out an experiment in an Italian restaurant, where diners were given either an $8 buffet, or a $4 buffet. After they had eaten their fill, the diners were asked whether they enjoyed the meal or not. Those that had the $8 meal were more likely to express satisfaction with the meal than those that had the cheaper meal, though both meals were identical.
This isn't just a superficial feeling of satisfaction. A similar study looking at how the price of wine effects its price put its subjects in a brain scanner while they imbibed different wines. The researchers were looking for changes in activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for pleasurable experiences.
They found that the level of activation increased in line with the price of the wine. Or rather, with the stated price. In fact, the wines weren't all different, an some had been used twice but marked as being different wines at different prices. In the brain's of the subjects, the $90 wine was much more pleasurable than the $10 wine, even when they were actually from the same bottle.
This is a way that a product can stand out form the crowd, by branding itself as more exclusive, and charging a premium for a better experience. A customer will always perceive that product as better, just because of the price.
5. The Law of Round Numbers
Everyone knows the trick with 99 cents. Conventional wisdom says that simply taking 1 cent off a price can increase a customer's desire to buy. If a $10 item becomes $9.99, customers think that the price is near $9 than $10.
But recent research suggests that such a pricing strategy might not always be optimal. Researchers Monica Wadhwa and Kuangjie Zhang looked at how people perceived rounded numbers and how, when the purchase is driven by people's feelings, a rounded price feels more natural.
This trick can be used by advertisers that have an intuitive understanding that some of our decisions are made emotionally and some of them are made rationally.
This means advertisers can round their prices up when appealing to our emotional side without losing business:
If you are buying a bikini, ready for the summer sun, it's not a purchase you put a lot of deliberation into. You are just going to decide which one you think you'll look better in. That means a nice round price is more attractive.