5 Psychological Tactics to Influence Consumers

5 Psychological Tactics to Influence Consumers

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This article was contributed by Luisa Brenton.

Human nature is what it is. That nature, along with environmental and genetic factors, causes people to behave the way they do.

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As soon as doctors and psychologists began studying human behavior as a science in the late 1870’s, there began a revolution in understanding what triggers certain behaviors. Smart marketers latched onto this new science and began to adapt it to selling techniques.

Psychology of Marketing

Many of the tactics used by early 20th century marketers are still in use today, although neuroscience, the newest branch of psychology, has added some other factors, such as sound, visuals, and color.

Here are 5 ways in which the psychology of advertising is used to trigger emotional “need” to make a purchase.

1. The Emotional Pull of Color

Consumer Color Wheel

Early marketing was of course in black and white, including print and TV ads. With the advent of color in advertising, marketers scurried to learn what colors best suited both their customers and what they wanted to sell. Neuroscience did not disappoint them. Now there is a huge body of research related to the psychological triggers of color. Below are two infographics which demonstrate how this science translates into what marketers do as they select colors for their campaign visuals.

Color Emotion

This first infographic speaks to the emotions that are stimulated by colors. Depending upon the market message and the target audience, color selection can be very important. Consider the colors pink and purple, for example – emotional triggers of femininity and beauty. Here is how Prevention Magazine, a health and beauty publication for women, uses it to advertise its exercise videos:

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Exercise Video 1


There are a number of other emotional triggers with the words and layout, but these will be discussed later. And Facebook uses blue to make us feel trust and security:

Facebook Blue

If a company is running a sale, for example, orange or red would be a good color – it also stimulates the impulsivity of a lot of purchasing behavior.

2. Emotional Psychology – Words and Visuals

This is an area of psychology that has not changed much over the years. Researchers tell us that 85% of a purchasing decision is emotional and only 15% is rational. Certain emotions do impact human behavior more than others – these are joy, love, excitement, sense of urgency, and humor. Negative emotions, such as fear of losing out on a great deal, can also be quite effective.

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Here is a chart showing the type of content that can go viral based upon emotional appeal percentages:

Emotions Online

Re-visit the Prevention Magazine content above – this is an obvious appeal to joy and laughter – you can “dance it off” – look how excited the model is.

On the other hand, consider this content from Basecamp, a project management software app for businesses.

Chaos Organized

Here are several emotional appeals in one simple display. Focusing only on the words for a minute, one word that grabs a potential customer is “chaos.” S/he may very well feel that a lot of projects are in a chaotic state or could become so. Organizing that chaos alleviates a fear that a potential customer may have along with the joy and happiness that comes when people work together to achieve that “common goal.” There are a couple of other emotional appeals as well:

  • Surely, the target company wants to join the almost 5000 companies that enrolled just last week – it becomes part of an elite group of smart businesses.
  • There is also the appeal to urgency – “You need to get a project done.”
  • The blue CTA button appeals to sense of security and trust.
  • The additional emotional appeal of getting a great deal ad making the customer look smart is contained within the CTA button – a 2-month free trial.

3. Humor & Amusement

Humor and Amusement make up 32% of the chart above. Marketers who can use humor in their ads can appeal to a very large range of target customers. Here are a couple of examples:

1. National Beer Day is April 7 – this is the first day that Americans could drink beer legally after prohibition ended in 1933. It is always celebrated with humor. Last year, I honor of the “holiday,” Newcastle Beer tweeted, “It’s National Beer Day. Have an ice-cold Newcastle and pretend you care.”

2. Virgin Airlines wanted to wish Americana a happy Thanksgiving in a humorous way. It posted the following picture of an employee “guiding” in a plane with turkey legs for lights.

Virgin Turkey Ad

3. Charmin Bath Tissue tweeted on Father’s Day: “To all you dads doing your morning routine, we wish you a Happy Father’s Day.”

The goal of this type of marketing is to get readers to share these tweets and posts with their online communities, thus spreading the brand and showing all readers/viewers that the company has a great sense of humor. And, in the process, the viewers will remember the names of these brands because the humor triggered the emotion of amusement.

4. The Psychology of Placement

Marketers have always been concerned with placement of their visuals and their text. Neuroscience backs this up with research on eye movement. When ad copy or a web page is being developed, marketers know that “weight” is given to certain elements based upon their size and where they are placed on the page. This weight draws the viewers’ eyes to that element first. If the element is not moving the viewer to the real message that asks for a purchase, then the ad/page is ineffective.

Today there is “heat map” technology which tracks the amount of time viewers spend on the elements of an ad page. Consider this first page developed for the Baby.com site.

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The heat map showed that most time was spent on the baby’s cute face, not on the text of offer on the right. Here is how that was changed:

baby Heat Map

Now, there is a sideways view of the baby who is looking at the information that the marketer wants the viewer to actually see. The red spots mean that this was successful.

Other ways that marketers can “force” eye tracking is to put arrows on a page or a print ad, directing the eye to the important conversion. In the case of a web page, place the CTA buttons in a prominent place with white space around them. Here is an example from Upwork.


Note a couple of things here:

  • White space around the CTA button gives it prominence
  • Use of color – the button is a contrasting color so that it stands out.
  • Rounded corners on the button: Neuroscientists tell us that rounded corners make the eye track inward, thus to the message. Squared corners move the eyes outward toward other content on the page.

As you can see using color, visuals, and words all have psychological impact. A marketers plan their advertising, they will take all of these factors into account and use combinations of them for maximum impact.

Luisa Brenton is a freelance writer. She had been working as a brand developer for 4 years. And now she is going to become the professor of marketing in the University of Chicago. 

6 thoughts on “5 Psychological Tactics to Influence Consumers”

  1. I find the colors extremely effective when I make my marketing campaign. Colors help us establish an emotional pull towards our customers. When a company approaches me to design their logo, I always based my design on colors in order to attract the customers suitable for their niche.

  2. Since there are so many companies trying to capture the attention of the targeted audience, it has become imperative for website owners to try different tactics and these psychological tactics are just awesome.

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