How Does Advertising Work ? (Answered)

Does Advertising Actually Work ? if so, How exactly ?!

Yes it does, this post is about explaining the science behind advertising, objective, testable, verifiable science, so let's get to it!

Advertising Spending Worldwide

Advertisers worldwide spend 100s of billions of dollars every year [1] and when it comes to U.S, Small medium businesses and large organization spends around $245billion on advertising annually [2].

For more interesting facts on advertising in U.S. check this article 25 Interesting Facts about advertising in U.S.

One thing that you can conclude from these facts is, it works, that’s why businesses around the globe invest in it, but then one wonders how, how does advertising makes your products/service gets sold?

Is there any science behind it or Marketers just hope and pray for it to deliver and it delivers?!

What and how it makes customers buy your product/service, to get an objective solid answer, we will need to explore human psychology!

Human Psychology & Advertising

When it comes to advertising and its impact on target market consumption, there is some really solid science behind it, science that can explain how advertising helps in increasing consumer consumption consequently driving up sales.

The thing that does it, is called “Mere-exposure affect” or the Familiarity principle which is defined by Wikipedia as follow.

“The mere-exposure effect (MEE) is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference (due to constant or repeated exposure aka advertising) for things merely because they are familiar with them. In social psychology, this effect is sometimes called the familiarity principle.” [3]

Clearly it means, to get your brand noticed, being considered by target market, being associated with certain meanings, you need to constantly expose or advertise to them and that will result in consumer preference, liking, consumption, utilization of your brand.

Now another research on MEE has shown that, for MEE to work it doesn’t need target audience to really carefully rationalize the information provided in advertising rather the simple repetition is enough to make a 'memory trace' in the consumer's mind and unconsciously affect their consuming behavior [4].

Does that suggest customers never use rational capacity in judging advertising ?! absolutely!

Does that suggest customers unconsciously judge advertising ?!! again, absolutely!!

One more thing I will add, that is emotions, consumers judge advertising on pure emotional level and then on basis of these two judgements (unconscious level + emotional level) they decide about a given brand.

That means you need to take emotions based approach to advertising, like using different positive emotions in advertising, now you have a valid question "What is your reason for utilizing emotions in advertising ?!!" .

Well to answer that important question, here is another well known figure in Neuroscience, Antonio Damasio Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California and an Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute Damasio is the author of several books and heads the Brain and Creativity Institute).

Antonio Damasio has confirmed with repeated scientific research, experimentation that when people take decisions (about anything) they do so emotionally.

In other words no decision is rational; he carried out different tests or experiments on large number of subjects (all of the subjects had one thing in common, the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions was completely damaged (damaged by various traffic accidents, illness etc) rendering it completely useless or in other words they felt no emotions whatsoever and he concluded that without emotions the subjects couldn’t take any decision whatsoever.

They couldn’t even decide between a cup of coffee and cold drink let alone deciding about much bigger things.

Watch this little video for more!

Now clearly what this research and MEE suggests that target audience needs emotions to make decision, therefore you need to put emotions in your advertising.

Advertising Long Term End Goal ?

Talking about emotions, strong positive emotions will do it, but remember you have to advertise constantly, for it to work; you can only stop when your brand achieves Top-of-Mind-Awareness (TOMA) [5].

To explain TOMA, Let me give an example, when you think of cold drink, what comes first in your mind? 

It is more likely to be coca-cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew… this is what these brands have achieved; they have become TOMA in cold drink niche.

Another example would be the term “Googling” used as synonym for “internet search”. This is what Google has achieved in terms of TOMA.

This should be your advertising end goal in the long run, to become TOMA!

Considering all these facts, we can conclude that there is some solid objective science behind advertising, that is why big brand are investing billions!

Now clearly "the big brands" know these facts but what about small businesses esp. new startups, well if you are on small budget, then read this article that will give you some solid suggestions on where to start when it comes to advertising, marketing!

Here, What Is the Best Marketing Strategy for Newly Started Small Business

Now before going for advertising keep couple facts in mind!

1.      Due to immense advertising clutter, ubiquity of advertising, target audience takes little to no interest in (common, mainstream) advertising [6] [7] [8] [9].

2.      Providing too much information (rationalizing) in an advertisement can result in information overload, where consumer is unable to decide due to too much information provided [10].

That means when you go for advertising, try to be different from the clutter (don't follow the mainstream), plus if you feel you should provide information, make sure it is small, precise and customer based, that means helping him/her in taking a quick efficient effective decision about your brand.

Though the fact is, in advertising customers hardly rationalize…


Yes advertising work, yes there is some solid science backing it up!

In fact what you need to succeed in advertising is 

1.      Repetition of advertising over the long run

2.      Emotions in advertising

3.      Being different from the advertising clutter

4.      Avoiding information overload

For more check the articles in references, over to you guys!

Last thing, if you liked the article, if it cleared many things regarding the subject matter, kindly share it, sharing is caring! :)

AND DON’T FORGET TO SUBSCRIBE for more actionable, handy tips!


1.      Alan Thein Durning, How Much is Enough: The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth, ed. Linda Starke, Worldwatch Environmental Alert Series (London: Earthscan, 1992), p. 120.

2.      “Part One: Advertising Perspectives” Page 6. Contemporary Advertising 10th edition by William A Frens.


4. Grimes, Anthony; Phillip J. Kitchen (29 June 2006). "Researching Mere Exposure Effects to Advertising". International Journal of Market Research 49 (2): 191–221.


6.      MacInnis, Deborah J., Christine Moorman, and Bernard J. Jaworski (1991), "Enhancing and Measuring Consumers Motivation, Opportunity, and Ability to Process Brand Information From Ads," Journal of Marketing, 4 (October), 32-53.

7.      McDonnell, F. (2005), “Integrating word of mouth marketing”, paper presented at the International Word-of-mouth Marketing Conference, 6-7 October, Hamburg, in Andres, N. (Ed.), Proceedings of the 1st International Word-of-Mouth Marketing Conference, Brand Science Institute, Hamburg, Germany.

8.       Nielsen (2007), “Trust in advertising, a global Nielsen consumer report”, October, available at:

9.       Data Mining for Direct Marketing : Problems & Solutions by Charles X. Ling & Chenghui Li

10.  Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision-Making

About Publisher Arshad Amin

Certified SEO Professional, Small Business, Start-up, Marketing Expert with ton's of practical, actionable ideas, insights to share, Proud Founder and Owner of and

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