Lifestyle How they manipulate your desires so that you buy

How they manipulate your desires so that you buy


Advertising directly addresses our emotions in a way that we are not always aware of, and we end up buying things that we do not need.

Is it possible to neutralize the impulse that urges us to buy compulsively?


We will never know if the first announcement was a cry from a cave for “the whole world to know” or a poorly kept secret that “got out of control” of the keeper. We will never know. Given the speculation, I prefer to think that it was the latter, because of the morbid rather than anything else. It’s more exciting!


Of course, politicians, religious men and judges were the first to openly reveal what they wanted to highlight from their supposed knowledge, based more on opinion than on facts.

In ancient Greece he was the herald. In Rome, it is the praeco who disseminates commercial messages about activities, products and services in exchange for money.

In the Middle Ages, it was the town criers who, at the service of the nobleman or the lord on duty, carried out their duties, but also merchants and merchants commissioned the town criers or carried them out themselves “openly” to make known the benefits of their products.

The peddlers do the same and the charlatans appear, sometimes extolling the non-existent qualities of fanciful products that do no harm at best, but also do not serve what they claim to serve.

Already in the New World, less than three hundred years ago, the wagons traveling to the new territories west of New England, in what is now the United States of America, advertise their own cargo.

Closing our eyes, we can all see (evoke, imagine) the scene of a group of potential buyers of the “miraculous” elixir growing hair secretly formulated by a “dentist” based on “herbs and alcohol”, which certainly would not sell or a single milliliter without the support of the accompanying self-advertising.


Of course, it is not a deception, but it is the emotion, the perception, therefore, the spring on which the advertised message works. That deception has been used and abused by advertising a quality that did not exist, knowing that it did not exist, is not a characteristic of advertising, but of the human condition.

Advertising is not merely an exercise in publicity and information. First, because it is not from this world that knowledge is generated. And second, because advertising is based on emotion rather than on the process of conveying strictly “rational” information.


There is an instinctive advertising whose messages produce emotional reactions, not rational ones. This is how we transform a product that serves something very specific into … a paradigm of a phenomenon completely detached from its true meaning.

A deodorant that awakens almost irrepressible desires for, for what? What will it have to do with it?

Here’s a key feature of advertising: perception. We see and hear (sometimes smell, taste and touch can also intervene, but almost always everything falls to the audiovisual component) and then we perceive and interpret, that is, we think.

This perception can be conscious and, therefore, based on a stimulus that is absolutely translatable from logic, with clarity and objectivity. In this case, we will make a judgment according to our value scheme (as recipients of the message) and we will make a decision from full knowledge.

But unconscious perception can also be enhanced, based on stimuli that are not perceived at first glance. In these cases, a response is generated that is not fully controlled by the receiver. At least not to the same level as when perception is conscious.

It can be explained more rigorously: unconscious perception uses visual or auditory stimuli of an intensity or in a space of time less than those required by the threshold of consciousness. This is how you get an answer without being aware of why you do what you do.


The subliminal component of advertising exists almost always. In this case, perception is worked below (sub) the threshold (limen) of consciousness and that is why we speak of “subliminal message”. Again, it is not that there is deception (necessarily), but there is an unconscious response if the message has been elaborated and launched through the use of stimuli directed to the unconscious.

In a simplified way, subliminal advertising requires the use of two elements, preferably combined:

  • That the stimulus is very short (in time) or of very low intensity if it is prolonged.
  • That the stimulus is practically imperceptible in a clear, almost hidden or disguised way.

Although subliminal advertising is explicitly prohibited in regulated markets, that is, it is illegal, there is no exact knowledge of the extent to which the subliminal is used in messages for the conscious or unconscious perception of what is advertised.

There are references. Those of the 1950s continue there as pioneering and almost the only documented practices. They have wanted to doubt both their effectiveness and whether they really existed or not. Those responsible have always denied it.

In 1956, the London Sunday Times published an article, Selling Through the Subconscious, probably the first documented reference to the application of the subliminal in advertising. In 1957, Vance Packard published the book The Hidden Persuaders, which undoubtedly sensitizes public opinion by openly discussing the sophistication of “manipulation techniques” used in advertising.


Immediately afterwards, numerous articles appeared in the press about the experiment that James Vicary carried out, also in 1957, in a movie theater in Fort Lee, where Picnic, with Kim Novak and William Holden, was shown.

The consumption of “popcorn and Coca-Cola” is suggested (does it induce?), Supposedly by interspersing during the projection of the film the static images “Eat pop corn / Drink Coca-Cola” for three thousandths of a second every five seconds ( imperceptible to the eye, actually, to the retina and brain).

In 1962, Vicary admits to having invented the following results: Coca-Cola sales increased by 18.1% and popcorn by 57.8% during the six-week projection.

The use of subliminal advertising mixed in the so-called sustainable advertising is denied, denied and denied. Henry Link, as president of the Psychological Corporation, states that, with or without Vicary’s experiments, subliminal advertising is “confusing, ambiguous, and not as effective as traditional advertising.”

Let’s not forget one thing. All this happens in the United States in the middle of the Cold War. The rumors and fear (this real one) of the communist propaganda bombardment and the “need” for a “reasonable” anti-communist response are there. The Radio Broadcasting Association agrees to ban its use on radio and television in 1958.


Today we must accept, in our western social framework, that advertising is fired against the target-receiver by appealing to emotions so that they are not aware and perceive it without question.

We are not aware of advertising manipulation, when it exists, due to the consistency of four factors in which we believe, but which in reality are nothing but false myths: freedom, rationality, awareness and objective perception.

Through the use of subliminal messages, advertising creators can transmit information that is supposed to be sufficiently “camouflaged”, received unconsciously, to provoke consumerist emotions and desires.

The use of psychology and neurosciences within the framework of marketing techniques makes it easy to create messages for the public sector to whom the advertised product or service is directed, very highly “filtered”, made almost to measure.

The machinery that penetrates human cognition has been created to lead it to think, feel and act in the proposed way. Of course, this manipulation has been denounced, criticized and even restricted in the legal system in some cases (such as in France), but it is practiced, and only the values ​​and the ethical code of advertisers can stop its penetration in the markets by refusing to certain uses.


Have you ever bought clothes that you will not wear, food that you do not really want, a device with so many functions that you will never use? If it has happened to you, it is that you have bought from strictly emotion.

If neuroscience techniques are put at the service of marketing to help sneak a message through the crack that directly affects emotion and hits where the spring of the buying action, even compulsive, is triggered, it is well that we defend ourselves by shielding it with a protective shield that our cortex provides, right?

And how is it done? The option of going shopping with a neuroscientist “polygraph in hand” seems complicated to us. He would warn us if it is the left prefrontal cortex (“like”) or the right (“dislike”) that has just been activated when reading “last days / offer” or when observing the scenery mounted to sell a bag.

The key is to get rational. There is no other recipe than to lower the threshold of empathy and raise the threshold of rationality. You could ask yourself these questions:

  • What specifically do I need this product (or service) for? Does it really live up to my expectations?
  • ¿ What alternatives I know that offer the same or something, or to compensate me purchase (not only price: after sales service, arrangements)?
  • Analyzing various factors, what is the quality / price ratio?
  • If you had a really tight budget, how far would you be willing to put in an effort to buy it? ¿ At what cost prioritize product over another?
  • Can I wait for tomorrow or do I really have to make the decision now ?
  • Can I imagine the cost of advertising in the price? Other brands that do not advertise, what is their price?

Relativize. Of course, if we ask ourselves if we will really be happier when purchasing the product, the question may lead us to a huge answer-lie, so it is better not to mix “fantasy” with a purchase decision, at the risk of having a huge disappointment. Buying almost never brings happiness. Another thing is the compulsive purchase indicative of the existence of a true disorder.

MindFixes Staff
MindFixes is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders and advocating, educating, and serving all people with mental and substance use conditions. MindFixes is determined to persevere, learn, grow, love and laugh through our wellness journey and we invite all to join.


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