Advertising and Classical Conditioning

Topics: Advertisement

Advertisements are everywhere. They can be seen on television or on billboards and listened to on the radio. Advertising is companies’ number one weapon, with almost $600 billion being spent on it worldwide in 2017 (Statista, 2017). There is no doubt, however, on why advertising is widely used; advertising is extremely effective because of how it affects a person’s view of the product. One can learn to view items a certain way through classical conditioning, where people or animals “come to anticipate or associate events with one another” (Rathus, 2018, p.

122). Companies use classical conditioning in advertising by associating the product with a fictional character or celebrity, a popular song, or a specific emotion.


Merchandise can be advertised better when it’s “paired” with a character or celebrity. One of the most infamous examples was the use of product placement in the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Newell, Salmon, & Chang, 2006, p. 575). In one of many scenes, Elliott, a main character, leaves a trail of Reese’s Pieces to lure E.

T. into his home. This and many other scenes became the basis of a $1 million campaign to portray the candy as E.T.’s favorite. In time, the movie became a blockbuster, and Hershey’s sales tripled (Newell, Salmon, & Chang, 2006, p. 589). Endorsements can also be a powerful influence for followers of the endorser. Fans of a certain celebrity can have an emotional attachment to him or her, even to the point of “celebrity worship.” Someone that isn’t a fan can also be affected because portrayals of the celebrity can cause the person to feel like he or she knows the celebrity.

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Endorsements can be extremely successful; this method can cause a return on investment of up to 960% (Wilson, 2017). A popular person, whether fictional or real, has great influence on the marketing industry.

When associated with well-liked music, an item can be more attractive. This was shown in a 1982 study by Gerald Gorn (as cited in Schachtman, Walker, & Fowler, 2010). Participants rated a variety of music, and either “attractive” or “unattractive” music was paired with one of two pens. The result? “Seventy-nine percent of subjects given a pairing of the colored pen with the attractive music chose this pen over a nonexposed pen when given a choice, and only 30 % of the participants chose the pen paired with unattractive music if they had received a pairing of this pen with the aversive music” (Schachtman, Walker, & Fowler, 2010, p. 484). The use of music can effectively target a specific audience. For example, a HP commercial featuring a Meghan Trainor song lead to “a 26% increase in total dollar volume among her fans while the ad was airing” (Nielsen, 2015, para. 10). Whether appealing to specific people or the general population, popular music can attract people to a product.


Even though emotion is a factor in the previous two methods of conditioning, emotion can be directly linked with a brand through advertising. It’s not uncommon for Coke ads to feature smiling faces or for Nike commercials to have a motivational tone. These appeals to emotion are successful because “a wide variety of emotional reactions are intended to make the consumer feel ‘good,’ ‘excited,’ or ‘secure,’ about the brand or product.” These emotions are also portrayed “as a distinct benefit resulting from consumption of the brand or product class” (Mizerski & White, 1986, p. 59). Unpleasant feelings can also be used to motivate someone to buy the product. “For example, fear might be used to motivate the consumer to engage in behaviors that reduce that fear, and thereby bring about relief” (Mizerski & White, 1986, p. 64). The most effective way to reach out to consumers is by engaging their emotions.

By pairing an item with a celebrity or character, popular music, or just a basic emotion, companies can use classical conditioning to boost sales. The amount of money spent to advertise will continue to rise; it is projected that over 750 billion dollars will be spent worldwide in the year 2021 (Statista, 2017). There is no doubt that companies will continue to use advertising to promote and sell their product.

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Advertising and Classical Conditioning. (2022, Mar 09). Retrieved from

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