The Advertising Industry Is More Dangerous Than Ever

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Can’t stop checking your phone, even when you’re not expecting any important messages? Blame your brain.

A new study by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has found that information acts on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system in the same way as money or food.

Advertisers have known this for several decades. In the famous experiments that  Ivan Pavlov conducted with his dogs, Pavlov found that objects or events could trigger a conditioned response. The experiments began with Pavlov demonstrating how the presence of a bowl of dog food (stimulus) would trigger an unconditioned response (salivation). But Pavlov noticed that the dogs started to associate his lab assistant with food, creating a learned and conditioned response. This was an important scientific discovery.

Pavlov then designed an experiment using a bell as a neutral stimulus. As he gave food to the dogs, he rang the bell. Then, after repeating this procedure, he tried ringing the bell without providing food to the dogs. On its own, an increase in salivation occurred. The result of the experiment was a new conditioned response in the dogs.

A simple application of Pavlovian theory is the response that some consumers have when they hear the word “sale.” It can generate an urge to shop, even if people have no specific need at the time.

The theory can also work with specific brands. A consumer may start associating a brand name or product with a certain perception after repeated marketing efforts and/or experience with the brand or product.

Pavlov’s theory later developed into classical conditioning, which refers to learning that associates an unconditioned stimulus that already results in a response (such as a reflex) with a new, conditioned stimulus. As a result, the new stimulus brings about the same response.

Advertising is mostly based in classical conditioning (besides all human beings are classical conditioned). The idea behind its use in advertising is simple. Companies want to make ads that bring forth a severe response in the viewer or reader exposed to the ad. This makes the advertised ‘product’ the Conditioned Stimulus. The ultimate goal of the ad is to make viewers associate the feeling they had with the ‘product’ when they come across with it in real life. This means that the feeling is now the Conditioned Response.

The online world of marketing and advertising

There are many ways advertisers trick consumers to think about a product or love a brand. One commonly used technique is called “Native Advertising” and you have probably already seen several examples of this without knowing it. Many brands and companies use this technique to hide advertising in news articles, user reviews and unboxing videos on Youtube, influencer content or through the live streaming gaming sites. Just to mention a few.

Another troubling aspect of native advertising is the news business in general. The term “Fake News” is often related to untrue articles or news related propaganda, but native advertisements should also be considered fake news or something very close to it. Trust in the mainstream news outlets are at an alltime low and it’s mostly due to this development in news business where profits are important than the truth.

Journalistic theory generally holds that news items should be objective, giving the reader an accurate background and analysis of the subject at hand. On the other hand, advertisements evolved from the traditional commercial advertisements to include also a new type in the form of paid articles or broadcasts disguised as news.

Online marketing and advertising is a loosely regulated industry and alot of seemingly illegal business models are totally legal online, like multilevel marketing. Alot of big companies use this business model and some of them are even built on this type of marketing. It’s a huge part of Facebook and the other social media giants like Instagram and Youtube.

The comedian Samantha Bee does a great job at explaining multilevel marketing so everybody can understand just how wrong this business model is.

Nudging theory and the hidden hand

Nudge is a concept in behavioral science, political theory and behavioral economics which proposes positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence the behavior and decision making of groups or individuals. Nudging contrasts with other ways to achieve compliance, such as education, legislation or enforcement.

Less intrusive than advertising and so widely applicable that it’s seen implementation in everything from architecture to politics and charity drives, nudge theory is a way to present choices to your audience in a way that subtly promotes the one you want them to make.

Nudging can come in a million different tiny forms. One section of the grocery store might be better lit making you move in its detection, or more profitable items might be placed on shelves at eye level, making them easier to see.

Companies will have a blueprint to your brain with a recipe that will guarantee your purchase of anything, but even if not, brains can still be influenced.

Assume that companies will keep wanting more money and psychologists will continue better understanding the human brain, and that nudging will become not just a suggestion but active manipulation.

Propaganda and military intelligence

Propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is presented.

A wide range of materials and media are used for conveying propaganda messages, which changed as new technologies were invented, including paintings, cartoons, posters, pamphlets, films, radio shows, TV shows, and websites. More recently, the digital age has given rise to new ways of disseminating propaganda, for example, through the use of bots and algorithms to create computational propaganda and spread fake or biased news using social media.

The field of social psychology includes the study of persuasion. Social psychologists can be sociologists or psychologists. The field includes many theories and approaches to understanding persuasion. For example, communication theory points out that people can be persuaded by the communicator’s credibility, expertise, trustworthiness, and attractiveness.

Black propaganda is a form of propaganda which is intended to create the impression that it was created by those it is supposed to discredit. Black propaganda contrasts with grey propaganda which does not identify its source, and white propaganda which does not disguise its origins at all. It is typically used to vilify, embarrass, or misrepresent the enemy.

The major characteristic of black propaganda is that the people are not aware that someone is influencing them, and do not feel that they are being pushed in a certain direction. This type of propaganda is associated with covert psychological operations.

Psychological warfare (PSYWAR), or the basic aspects of modern psychological operations (PSYOP), have been known by many other names or terms, including MISO, Psy Ops, political warfare, “Hearts and Minds”, and propaganda.

Various techniques are used, and are aimed at influencing a target audience’s value system, belief system, emotions, motives, reasoning, or behavior. It is used to induce confessions or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originator’s objectives, and are sometimes combined with black operations or false flag tactics. It is also used to destroy the morale of enemies through tactics that aim to depress troops’ psychological states.

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