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November 8, 2013
Advertising and its 'Victims'
 
Humans are wonderful creatures to study when it comes to why they do what they do. In many cases, what we do simply doesn't make sense. Why are we afraid of being mugged versus dying in a car accident? Why are we afraid of shark attacks versus being hit while crossing a crosswalk? These irrational fears force us to consider irrational motives.

However, when we place a human face to it, things change. 

Yes, a recent study came out that suggests that people, when they attach a human face to a cause or motive, can relate more than otherwise to that same cause or motive. The most common concept used was for charity.

This is not new. In fact, in behavioral and marketing scientist circles, this phenomenon is called the "identifiable victim" effect. That because we can pick or choose to see a single person struggling and could use our help, we would be much more inclined to give than seeing a group suffer.

What does that mean? Are we just naturally more immune to groups dying than individuals? 

Of course not.

You see, it is becoming more clear that the more we study the brain and our unconscious, the more the unconscious mind does even without our knowing. If we see a group suffer, there are so many options and variables that our brain is analyzing that it paralyzes us to make a decision. We convince ourselves that it is better for others to help.

On the flip side, if we see a single person struggling to clothe themselves, or needs water, adequate food, and shelter, we will all try our best to help.

Rational? Of course not.

But advertisers have been using that ploy for decades. Remember those "slice of life" ads? Remember those fancy "testimonials"? Those are tactics specifically made to make people associate with the brand and people who use it.

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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