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The Mysteries Behind The Psychology of Print and Radio Advertising

Updated on January 10, 2013

Logic versus emotion, mind versus heart - the psychology behind the power of persuasive advertising offers some truly awe-inspiring insights into the complexities of human behavior. What is it that motivates and determines our daily decisions? As consumers, why do we choose one product or service over another without knowing much about either one? In this article, two forms of advertising will be addressed - print advertising and radio advertising. We will begin with a brief history of each medium, and then explore what it is that convinces us to make one choice over another.

In ancient times, word of mouth was more than just the primary method of advertising – it was the only way for a merchant to make his wares known. The creation of printed symbols gave birth to a new and more effective way to publicly promote one’s goods and services. This was the earliest form of non-published print advertising. In 1648, the Imperial Intelligencer published the first-ever advertisement printed in English.

Today, print advertising is seen most commonly in newspapers, magazines and newsletters, and aims to attract people primarily toward its services and products. One argument against the effectiveness of print advertising is that it works only if people look at it. Other substantiated claims state that print advertising is losing revenue dollars due to the success of its competitors – namely television and the internet.

In 1922, New York’s WEAF was the first radio station to ever air a live radio commercial. In contrast to the standard thirty second and sixty second commercial spots that air today, that commercial was ten minutes long. With New York’s WEAF paving the way, radio advertising took off like wildfire. By 1930, advertising time was being sold by a whopping 90-percent of all radio stations in the United States. It was during the decade of the 1930’s that radio stations actually began pre-recording commercials. They had previously been read live on the air. Unlike print advertising, air-time is in such demand today that radio stations often institute rate hikes in proportion to the amount of inventory available to advertisers. This is known as the law of supply and demand.

Is it possible that the reasoning behind why we make certain choices is responsible for the success of the radio advertising industry? Studies have shown that up to 90 percent of our decisions are based on emotion. That is not to say that emotion is 100 percent responsible for our final decision, but it is one of the determining factors. While it is true that emotions are responsible for the creation of movement and action, it is logic which has the vital role of creating the foundation for emotion. Both elements play an important part in influencing and ultimately persuading the audience to exhibit a desired response. In most instances, people tend to react based on emotions. They do, however, subsequently justify their actions by relying on facts. Successful persuasive advertising cannot happen without both elements - logic and emotion.

What motivates and determines the decisions we make when it comes to choosing one advertised product or service over another? We are persuaded by fact, logic and reason, and moved to action by emotion. Generally speaking, when we agree with a specific message, we perceive that message as being one of logic. This may be due, in part, to the way we justify our decisions based upon facts which have been presented to us. In contrast, when we disagree with a message, we tend to see it as more of an emotional plea. In our own minds, we justify disagreeing because we see emotional pleas as being of less importance than the presentation of facts.

Often, an advertiser will rely on a team of creative professionals to invent an interesting, emotionally-charged message that will engage its audience and distract from its intent to influence and persuade. This tactic is not meant to mislead the audience. It is simply the way an advertiser uses psychology to tap into and master the emotions of its audience, evoking a desired response. To gain a better understanding of how emotions move us to action, we will now briefly touch on two emotions used in advertising to influence and persuade. Fear is one emotional sales tactic used to persuade us to do things we might not otherwise do. Whether there exists a real or imagined threat of death, we buy life insurance. Fearful of a potential fire in our homes, we buy smoke alarms. Afraid of the possibility that an intruder will invade our homes, we purchase handguns to near our beds. Compassion is another emotion that advertisers employ. This technique is often used by organizations seeking donations to help feed starving children, to provide care and find homes for abandoned animals and so on. A number of other emotions are also used by advertisers to influence and persuade, but fear and compassion are among the most common.

When we choose to follow our minds over our hearts, it is evidence which convinces us to do so. Give us testimony, statistics, analogies and examples, and you will not only strengthen your arguments, but successfully remove our lingering doubts as well. One example of this is in print advertising. The facts are right there in front of us. We can walk away from the newspaper – taking with us the logic and reasoning that has been used to persuade us in one way or another – and when we return, the facts will still be there in print, reinforcing the validity of our decision. A print ad may use pictures, graphics or a combination of design elements to encourage an emotional response, but it is still logic which dictates our decision when it comes to print advertising.

On the other hand, when an advertisement leads us to feel hope, love, excitement or any other emotion, we will almost always respond more quickly than when presented with logic alone. In radio, the advertiser needs to grab our attention in the first five to seven seconds of a commercial in order to draw us in and get us to listen to the remainder of the radio spot, which most likely contains some factual information as well. Armed with the knowledge that we respond more quickly to an emotionally-charged advertisement, the advertiser uses that information to evoke from its listening audience a desired response, and ultimately to achieve a greater level of success than is seen in the print advertising industry.

After exploring the complexities of human behavior, we have learned that when responding to advertising, emotion and logic both play an important role in influencing and persuading. While logic creates the foundation for emotion, emotions are responsible for the actual creation of movement and action. It is no surprise then, that radio advertising has seen greater success than print advertising in recent years. Simply put, emotion plus logic – not necessarily in equal parts – results in the power of persuasive advertising.


Ind, Nicholas. Beyond Branding: How the New Values of Transparency and Integrity Are Changing the World of Brands. London: Kogan Page, 2005. Ebook.

Scott, Walter D. Psychology of Advertising. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Library, 1997. Ebook.

Mortensen, Kurt W. Maximum Influence: The 12 Universal Laws of Power Persuasion. New York: AMACOM, 2004. Ebook.

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