Advertisements are sometimes spoken of as the nervous system of the business world … As our nervous system is constructed to give us all the possible sensations from objects, so the advertisement which is comparable to the nervous system must awaken in the reader as many different kinds of images as the object itself can excite.
The only method of advertising known to the ancients was the word of mouth. The merchant who had wares to offer brought them to the gate of a city and there cried aloud, making the worth of his goods known to those who were entering the city, and who might be induced to turn aside and purchase them. We are not more amused by the simplicity of the ancients than we are amazed at the magnitude of the modern systems of advertising.
As advertisers, all your efforts have been to produce certain effects on the minds of possible customers. Psychology is, broadly speaking, the science of the mind. Art is the doing and science is the understanding how to do, or the explanation of what has been done. If we are able to find and to express the psychological laws upon which the art of advertising is based, we shall have made a distinct advance, for we shall have added the science to the art of advertising.
The method employed by the psychologist in attempting to give advertising a theoretical basis has been quite uniform. He has first analyzed the human mind into its various activities, then analyzed advertisements to discover what there is in them that may or may not awaken the activity desired. This method can best be understood from an example. For an illustration we shall consider Mental Imagery as understood by the psychologist and in its application to advertising.
The man who is born blind is not only unable to see objects, but he is equally unable to imagine how they look. After we have looked at objects we can see them in our mind’s eye with more or less distinctness, even if our eyes are closed or the object is far removed from us. When we imagine how an absent object looks we are said to have a visual image of it. We cannot imagine how a thing looks unless we have actually seen it in our previous experience. The imagination can take the data of former experience and unite them into new forms, but all the details of the new formation must be taken from the former experience of the individual.
The man who is born deaf can neither hear nor imagine what sounds are like. Whatever we have heard, we can live over again in imagination,—we can form auditory images of it. We cannot imagine any sound which we have not actually heard, although we can unite into new combinations the sounds and tones which we have experienced.
Normal minds reach different conclusions under apparently identical outward circumstances, but there is a greater difference in the terms of thought, or the mind stuff with which the thinking is done. One man thinks in terms of sight. He is said to be “eye-minded.” His thinking is a rapid succession of pictures. When he thinks of a violin he thinks rather how it looks than how it sounds.
Another man thinks in terms of sound. He is “ear-minded.” His thinking is a succession of sounds. When he thinks of his friends he hears their voices, but cannot possibly imagine how they look. He does not know that there are other possible forms of thought, and so assumes that all people think in terms of sound as he does. Another man is “motor-minded.” He thinks in terms of movements. Even when he looks at a painting he whispers inaudibly to himself a description of the painting. Later when he describes the picture to a friend he may do it in the terms which he whispered to himself when he was looking at the picture.
One of the great weaknesses of the present day advertising is found in the fact that the writer of the advertisement fails to appeal thus indirectly to the senses. How many advertisers describe a piano so vividly that the reader can hear it? How many food products are so described that the reader can taste the food? How many advertisements describe a perfume so that the reader can smell it? How many describe an undergarment so that the reader can feel the pleasant contact with his body? Many advertisers seem never to have thought of this, and make no attempt at such descriptions.
Advertising is an essential factor in modern business methods, and to advertise wisely the business man must understand the workings of the minds of his customers, and must know how to influence them effectively,—he must know how to apply psychology to advertising.