Careers in Science: Advertising Psychology

Enjoy science but shudder at the idea of laboring in a laboratory for the rest of your life? Interested in healthcare but dread the idea of taking blood pressures on a daily basis? If so, then perhaps the innovative and fast-growing field of advertising psychology may offer a promising path for you. Although advertising psychology is typically branded as a field geared solely to supporting our consumer culture, consumer and advertising psychology essentially seeks to understand how we make choices and what influences our decisions and thus has applications far beyond corporate battles between AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Many science-and healthcare-related enterprises, such as successful public health campaigns, the multi-billion dollar industry of pharmaceutical drugs, and the often overlooked field of hospital advertising, are driven by a keen understanding of how science, advertising psychology, and marketing are intertwined.

This Mount Sinai Medical Center advertisement exemplifies the modern approach to influential marketing in healthcare fields. Photo courtesy of Mount Sinai Medical Center.

“It is kind of disturbing how much psychology goes on in marketing,” Dr. Jennifer Harris, Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, admits. In the past, almost all marketing campaigns were based on advertising logical reasons for decision-making. For example, if Hospital A advertises that its surgery success rate is higher than Hospital B’s, we might therefore rationally seek care at Hospital A. Market research heavily relied – and still does heavily rely – on focus groups of everyday people who provide their input and opinions on advertisements. However, these studies were, time and time again, ineffective in producing successful advertising campaigns that would improve earnings.

The root of the problem, Harris explains, is that people are “notoriously bad” at predicting what they really want or will buy. Most marketing and advertising research in the past was based on the notion that people generally respond and act logically and rationally. “People think they are much more rational than they really are,” Harris reveals.

Armed with this realization that people respond emotionally rather than logically, a relatively new era of clever campaigns with designs founded almost entirely on human psychology has emerged. Basic psychological principles are creatively translated into campaigns that attract consumers on an unconscious level. For example, only attractive and healthy-looking individuals act in television commercials for Cymbalta, an anti-depression medication. Heart-warming and memorable success stories dominate hospital advertisements, rather than statistics on successful operations. In addition, successful health awareness campaigns have taught us to think “breast cancer awareness” when we see pink ribbons. It is clear that marketing and advertising schemes have reached such a pervasive scale that we hardly ever take the time to consider the most subtle and yet effective integrations in our daily lives.

Naturally, advertising psychologists who understand how to combine science with marketing fill the ranks of any company, hospital marketing board, and global health organization today. Heavy recruitment is ongoing for those who can tailor strong science backgrounds to successful marketing of science- and health-care related areas. Furthermore, for those interested in scientific research, today’s market research is increasingly becoming more of a science than ever before, relying heavily on the traditional scientific method to test and gauge public response.

Modern healthcare advertising often promotes awareness by using stark and compelling imagery. Photo courtesy of Ads of the World.

Although a significant number of consumer psychologists work in industry, many also focus on academic research within universities to answer practical, real-world questions: How do people make their choices? What influences their behavior? What things unconsciously influence people’s decisions? These fundamental human psychology questions are clearly integral to designing health campaigns to raise awareness for diseases, attracting scientists to certain brands of micropipettes, and creating advertisements for many other science-related areas.

Whether consumer psychology is being utilized to understand the influence of different types of advertisements or to create compelling marketing campaigns, the unique field of human psychology in science and healthcare-related areas is clearly on the rise. From the ubiquitous Beckman Coulter centrifuges on every lab bench to the online webcasts of brain surgery on Memphis hospitals’ websites to controversies over the HPV vaccine, the need for successful marketing campaigns is universal.