How does brand advertising work

Advertising and manipulation

Advertising influences our lives practically permanently - this fact is probably largely undisputed. However, very few people are fully aware of the mechanisms that are at work here. It is clear that advertising influences us. But how does the advertising industry work to get us to buy the products it advertises? Which social framework conditions further promote this intention to sell?

The ubiquity of advertising

In the German market alone, almost 32 billion euros were spent on advertising last year - taking into account classic platforms such as magazines, newspapers, radio and television as well as modern, digital media on the Internet. The level of expenditure and the wide spread of investments alone speak strongly in favor of the fact that advertising is obviously worthwhile.

Its ubiquity certainly contributes to its effectiveness - we hardly have a chance to avoid it in our everyday life. In fact, we only perceive a fraction of this advertising because the media overload is so great. We are constantly receiving stimuli, and we can only consciously remember very few of them.

The personalization of advertising

A profound difference between traditional and digital media is that the latter can now be personalized to a completely different extent. After all, social media can be adapted to our wishes, needs and interests to a completely different extent than was previously the case. Of course, the various analog platforms also offered some form of customization. However, by addressing the various readership groups, radio listeners and television viewers, target groups could only be roughly addressed without any real individualization being possible.

Facebook, Instagram and Co., on the other hand, can completely adapt advertising to the respective user and thus earn a significant part of their income. It is also to be expected in perspective that such sites will rely on such measures for the purpose of financing - but will probably improve them through technological developments and sophisticated algorithms.

The fact that this fact is socially well worth criticizing does not have to be considered a subjective comment - after all, personalized advertising only works if the social networks cooperate intensively with the respective advertising partners. However, it is legitimate to ask whether this is always in the interests of consumers. From the point of view of data protection in particular, doubts are absolutely justified.

The already mentioned ubiquity of advertising is made even more penetrative by personalization - now advertising is no longer just everywhere, it also addresses our personal interests in a very targeted manner.

Advertising and psychology

Speaking of personal interests: it is astonishing how the economy has discovered the methods of psychology for its goals and makes them usable for itself. Obviously, many citizens are relatively certain that they would base their purchasing decisions primarily on rational criteria. But that is not the truth. Because if rational criteria were the only motivation behind the purchase or rejection of a certain product, there would be no branding at all. But to get to the connection between advertising and psychology, it is worth taking a closer look at branding.

Branding - when a product takes on character

Here we go on a little excursus into business administration, in which branding receives special attention because it is so important for private companies. In fact, it is, among other things, about associating the brand with positive characteristics. This is irrational because we may have found a certain product from the company to be good, but we cannot deduce from it that all other goods from the supplier can shine with the same quality.

It may be obvious to make this assessment - but it is definitely not entirely rationalizable. Instead, it is a human, psychologically explainable purchase incentive. The respective favorite brands can be viewed: Can all the products that these companies produce undoubtedly be assessed as being of high quality? And if this judgment is positive, what evidence is there for it?

Remarkably, before business administration was even nearly as highly developed as it is today, branding was already described by Karl Marx as a commodity fetish - of course, far less positively. But the term he coined has already created a synonym for branding.

The suggestion of innovation

It is particularly important for technically oriented companies to present themselves as technically innovative. After all, progress is seen as something positive and is rarely charged with interpretations critical of culture in our present day, as was the case in the past. With a more positive interpretation of the term, it goes without saying that innovation is seen as a prerequisite for technical products.

This leads to quite bizarre results in some cases: Smartphone manufacturers all proclaim that they have offered the decisive innovative strength here for the same technical innovations, while of course at most one of them can have provided this service here.

Meanwhile, the world-famous car companies are constantly outbidding each other with supposedly innovative features in their new cars - even if they probably often know that these are not all that innovative. Instead, it is more about convincing the customer that this innovation exists. The focus here is on the brand image before the actual product performance.

Greenwashing as an example of the psychological effect

One of the topics that citizens are very concerned about today is sustainability. No wonder: Decades of environmental sins in the western industrialized nations, but also in the developing countries, now seem to have their consequences. Accordingly, people are becoming increasingly aware that it is important to conserve fossil resources and instead use renewable materials.

This endeavor is as understandable as it is necessary. The tendency towards more ecological products, which should at the same time be healthier and free of harmful substances, could not be less than the cornerstone of a rethink. However, the economy has also come to the point of using sustainability thematically for itself. And it seems to be very specific about promoting its products in all areas as environmentally friendly, healthy and sustainable. After all, many consumers are willing to dig deeper into their pockets for sustainable products.

At first this is not critical either: Society rediscovers a topic for itself and the market reacts to it. Ultimately, this is about supply and demand. So until then, not a particularly unusual process. It is noteworthy in a negative sense, however, when the market illegally wants to create the impression that the goods offered are healthy and sustainable. This process is called greenwashing. Even if you can recognize it by various features, consumers hardly have a chance to see through the connections when shopping in the supermarket.

They want an ecological, fairly produced and healthy product, and that is exactly what the packaging suggests to them: With a few supposedly safe facts and health promises, it is suggested that the customer has found exactly the product that he needs.

Greenwashing in concrete terms - the "pinchies"

In fact, there are many products that are good examples of greenwashing. One of these numerous examples are the so-called "Quetschies" that various supermarket chains have added to their product ranges. This is supposed to be about the consumption of healthy fruit for the little ones - unfortunately the priority seems to be more on the sparkling income of the manufacturers. As is usual with greenwashing, people like to refer to the health aspects of the product, the organic seal should stand as a guarantee for sustainability and suggest to the customer that, in the best case, by buying the advertised goods, they are doing something good.

Manufacturers use the supposedly sustainable aspect to increase their sales. The deception here is ultimately that the offer consists mainly of concentrated fructose and is therefore by no means as healthy for children as is claimed. After all, despite the vitamins in the product, fructose is one of the so-called fast carbohydrates - just like various soft drinks.

And that's not all: Despite the supposedly sustainable approach, it is ultimately about pureed fruits that are packaged in plastic and aluminum. Unfortunately, this also creates a lot of waste, which is by no means sustainable. Accordingly, the consumer is sold goods that he could get in the form of real individual fruits in a much healthier way - and that without producing unnecessary waste.

Colors and perception

In greenwashing, as in many other methods of advertising to get us to buy a product, human color perception is used. After all, we react constantly and often even necessarily to colors in our everyday life, if we take the traffic light, for example: Here, above all, the colors green and red send the appropriate impulse to us either to drive, to walk or to stop. This example shows that our perception processes impulses very quickly and we convert the information within seconds - seeing colors is certainly one of the fastest ways to process information.

The advertising industry has of course recognized this fact - and not just since yesterday. Take the world-famous soda from Coca Cola as an example - the colors white and red have always been emblazoned on its label. This is no coincidence. Because, of course, red and white serve as absolute signal colors that attract attention. It is not for nothing that they are used by countless companies around the world.

The magic word here is color psychology. Here consumers' associations are deliberately exploited and fueled. How does this work? Well, first of all, advertising agencies and marketing departments usually know exactly which colors they use to evoke which associations in interested parties.

For example, red is associated with very specific associations. This includes, for example, a sweet, hot or spicy taste or the perception of passion. Either way, red attracts people's attention and is therefore one of advertisers' favorite colors.

White, for example, stands for innocence, but also for cleanliness. With associations like this, it quickly becomes clear that color perception is also learned to a large extent and not inherited. This fact is all the more interesting when you consider how strongly we are conditioned here and how color perception can be culturally passed on.

The colors used for advertising vary not only in the cultural context, but also depending on the industry and zeitgeist. If we look at the food industry, for example, there is a trend towards greener packaging. Even the manufacturers of confectionery suddenly seem to be discovering the visual relationship to nature and are increasingly using elements with green tones.

The color embossing of a product can be so successful that whenever we take the product in question, we remember the color and design of the packaging. Anyone who thinks they buy their products regardless of the look of the surroundings is wrong.

Product placement - problematic product placement

However, the times are long gone in which the economy still allowed itself to advertise its success only by means of a sleek design, high product quality and with the help of competitive prices. Meanwhile, the industry has discovered yet another means of choice to increase the likelihood that people will be addressed by them.

This marketing tool is called Product Placement, or in German: Product Placement. The possibilities here range from the placement of products in film and television, in newspapers or magazines, on the Internet or even comics to music or video games. As a rule, there is compensation for the respective production for the named media to use product placements.

Let's get a little more concrete using the example of film: From a subtle use of cameras, which for example casually stages certain car brands, to the explicit, positive mention of branded goods, there are a wide variety of variants. Of course, the sums are not always made public here - which is probably better. Because one can assume that with larger sums more influence on the productions is bought.

This is problematic when the economy can buy an influence on the script writing. Incidentally, it is by no means only business that is interested in a positive presentation of its products. Instead, for example, the US Army is often directly or indirectly involved in American film productions in order to secure the most positive representation of the military there in return for cooperation.

That this procedure works excellently both with the US Army and with commercial enterprises is shown by the fact that the sales of the respective investors increase by double-digit percentages - the assumption that product placements would not work quickly turns out to be erroneous. It is noteworthy that the success of product placements by no means always depends on it being very obvious. Occasionally, products became more successful even though the companies themselves weren't involved, but primarily a creative decision by the filmmakers to want to install the product.

How the digitization of advertising helps

Digitization is changing the lives of all of us - without question. The fact that digitization is also changing the type and nature of advertising was hardly appreciated to this extent before the start of the process.

The fact that the personalization of advertising takes place through the social networks and our user data entered there is already a considerable development that would have been inconceivable without digitization. Nonetheless, the triumphant advance of the Internet has also been helpful for advertising in other ways. Various advertising banners can be found on practically all websites, and with a click we can usually find the offer directly there.

And not only that: The online shops are permanently available to us and thus advertise our purchasing power. In addition, there are regular discount campaigns that also entice us to go shopping. However, one of the most powerful advertising tools on the Internet is what is known as influencer marketing, which primarily uses social networks. For example, companies conclude contracts with well-known Instagram users who are followed by many people in order to benefit from their so-called reach.

The main advantage of influencer marketing for companies is that well-known profiles on Instagram are perfect for getting closer to their own target group in a natural way. Let's take an example: A company that produces lip gloss is looking for a suitable model for influencer marketing. What could be more natural than to choose a lady with high reach who has a lot of followers on Instagram? By presenting the products positively in their postings, they should create a purchase incentive for the followers and in return receive free goods from the company and / or financial compensation.

This type of marketing is very efficient, especially with young people who do not yet question why the so-called influencers only rate certain products positively and often hold them in the camera.


In summary, there are countless ways in which advertising can manipulate us. It goes without saying that we cannot simply avoid this type of influence, especially in view of its ubiquity. Nonetheless, we should be able or empowered to reflect and question advertising. This way, we are more likely to be able to focus much better on the core values ​​a commodity should have, rather than primarily focusing on how it is presented.

22nd November 2017