Is the Purpose of Advertising to Create Cognitive Dissonance

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Advertising deals with people's feelings and emotions. It includes understanding of the psychology of the buyer, his motives, attitudes, as well as the influences on him such as his family and reference groups, social class and culture. In order to increase the advertisements persuasiveness, advertisers use many types of extensions of behavioural sciences to marketing and buying behaviour. One such extension is the theory of cognitive dissonance. The purpose of advertising can be to create a cognitive dissonance to generate a favourable response from the buyer toward a product or a concept.

First of all, I will talk about the purpose of advertising and its mechanism and I will look at how it can be related to the theory of cognitive dissonance. In addition to that, I will examine the effects of fear appeals on consumers, which are a direct application of the theory of cognitive dissonance. I will try to provide concrete examples of fear appeals and I will take into consideration the ethical aspect of fear appeals. In last part, I will give some examples, where advertisements are used to reduce the cognitive dissonance.

The purpose of advertising is simply to sell a product or a service. In social contexts ads have many other applications such as reducing accidents, increasing voting and reducing smoking which must be assessed instead of profit. However people do not automatically buy a product after they are exposed to an ad. First, they have thoughts or feelings about a product, and then they buy it. Advertising and other types of marketing communications directly affect consumer's mental processes. Advertising can be thought of as stimulus that produces a response or an effect. Moreover, the main objective of advertisements is to convince consumers that the alternative offered by the product provides the best chance to attain the goal. The attitude toward the advertisement is defined "as a predisposition to respond in favourable or unfavourable manner to a particular advertising stimulus during a particular exposure occasion ". The range of feelings generated by advertisements is broad and spreads from contentment to repulsion. Those feelings can have a direct impact on brand attitudes. It is really important for advertisers to generate a feeling that will modify the buyer's attitude toward a product. One of the strategies used by advertisers is to create a cognitive dissonance in people's mind. Leon Festinger elaborated the theory of cognitive dissonance in 1957. His ideas were tested intensively in the 1960s and 1970s and this led to modifications in both the form of the theory and in its perception. The theory states that in a point in time, there exist several bits of relevant cognitions which may not be consistent with one another. Dissonance produces a psychological discomfort. This condition led people to change their thoughts, feelings or actions in order to reach a state of ‘consonance' or harmony. Dissonance could arise from logical inconsistency, from cultural mores, because of past experiences and because of one specific opinion, sometimes included by definition, in a more general opinion. Another facet of the theory is that a person, after a purchase decision, seems to be under pressure by the fact of his or her choice and looks for more information concerning the reserved option. Two factors mainly affect the strength of the dissonance: the number of dissonant beliefs, and the importance attached to each belief. According to the theory, there are three ways to eliminate the dissonance. The first one consists in reducing the importance of the dissonant beliefs, the second one in adding more consonant beliefs that outweigh the dissonant beliefs and the last one in changing beliefs so that they are no longer inconsistent. The last option seems to be the most interesting for advertisers, because it gives them the opportunity to make a change in people's beliefs by creating a dissonance. This change could...
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