Here in the UK many millions of pounds are spent on a regular basis on advertising.
We have come to associate certain TV programmes with products (Coronation Street and chocolate, Dominos pizza and Britains Got Talent, for example), we hum the tunes of annoying advertisement jingles (we buy any car dot com), straplines and catchphrases from advertisements have worked their way into our conversations and sense of humour (simples!), certain famous faces represent a product we recognise before remembering who they really are, we read about the latest films on the back of cereal packets during breakfast, we get pop-up messages on websites, direct mail through our doors and shoved into our newspapers and magazines, we even have big yellow books filled with advertising that we are given for free… And this is only the bigger budget stuff I am referring to… I have not even mentioned advertising on the sides of buses and other vehicles, for example.
I have a few friends who insist that advertising does not influence them in the slightest, in fact, they swear blind that they buy other things in particular to move away from buying into big budget advertising campaigns…. I doubt they are typical.
Advertisers continue to invest money in delivering their messages in the hope and with the aim that we absorb the information and subsequently have our buying habits altered and influenced. They want us to buy their product rather than others and to make a choice for their service instead of their competitors. They want us to feel like we are missing out on something if we buy cheaper, they want their product to appear more attractive and so on and so on…
Advertising is everywhere and anywhere. The messages contained within it range from basic to complex, from basic imagery, to surreal concepts. What’s more, I am regularly told by colleagues, peers, friends and others, that advertising is a form of hypnosis.
Is it actually?
It is clear for anyone to see that advertisers do utilise a range of suggestive techniques to attempt to influence you to invest in their service or product.
Often they attempt to creating a need for their product, I mean I can remember when moisturising really was not something men did and I cannot recall there being moisturisers aimed at men when I was growing up. Yet today, I have several different kinds making my bathroom cabinet bulge as i simply need to have different moisturisers for post-shave, post-shower, before going to bed and after a day in the sun etc, etc.
On other occasions, advertisers employ techniques whereby they want you to identify with the people (or individual) featured in their advertisement so that you can be like them if you have their product, or you can also solve your issue by using the same product, or your family will be happy if you share this product with them.
These advertisers will even then tell you what a brilliant, informed and intelligent choice you made by choosing their product, they may remind you of how wise you are for having made this choice, and how better your life (and the life of your family) will be now that you chose their product. They may attempt to make you feel sexy, clever, enlightened, responsible or whatever it takes for you to choose that product or service.
Then there are those others who have a man in a white coat holding a test tube, who is clearly an expert scientist, who tells you that this product is proven to work and that we must not read the small print at the foot of the advertisement telling us it only works that way for 55% of people in a randomised trial. Yes, scientific data covers our advertisements as a way of authenticating the product.
I have friends, mentors who have written book upon book on influence and persuasion and advertising, I could not do this subject any justice in one single blog entry, this is a much more complex subject indeed… The point that I am making here is that many people do draw parallels with the field of hypnosis because advertising uses words and images in a way that is intended to influence your behaviour and even alter the way you live your life.
It is therefore not surprising that many people consider advertising as mass hypnosis. Though we have these similarities, are they really the same? I mean, how does an image or idea on a written page, or on the television then affect our behaviour in such a way that it is comparable to clinical hypnosis? Especially when some of them are only a few seconds in length, or just a still frame image with a slogan.
There is a belief held by some advertisers and hypnosis professionals alike, that believes the majority of people don’t actually engage their full attention with advertisment; that is, they wander off to other things while being exposed to the advertisement.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that subliminal messages do not influence us at all. However, much social psychological and cognitive research suggest messages may be absorbed, even when we are not giving it our full attention. The work of Sherman in 1998 and 2000, referred to this as “priming” whereby as a result of having been exposed to a product through the advertisement, we then recognise that product when we are out shopping and choose that product as a result.
There are a wide number of studies that anyone can go and take a look at online that do show that the more familiar we are with a product or service, the more likely we are to buy it and consider to be a positive choice to make.
In 1999, Aronson highlighted that repetition and familiarity are progressive ways of getting messages into peoples awareness.
In clinical applications of hypnosis, we tend to know that repetition can be incredibly hypnotic and useful and we strive for a degree of trust and expectancy which is similar and has parallels with familiarity. So maybe there are parallels between these two topics of advertising and hypnosis, eh?
I am tough to convince, so let’s look a bit further into this.
There are estimates made by all kinds of experts about this, but in our day-to-day lives, we get bombarded by thousands (some think millions, others hundreds) of pieces of information ranging from obvious advertisments on telly or in magazines, to conversations we have with the people we encounter, to books we read and that is not even considering many other forms of infomration (as I type this, I have 5 windows open on my PC that are feeding me all kinds of data right now!).
Every piece of information that reaches you, that you absorb, is surely influencing you in some way. Even our day dreams, our own internal dialogue, are influencing us in some shape or form. Within our hypnotherapy sessions with our clients, we often seek to influence those clients in a way that enables them to alter their behaviour, or change their experience of themselves in a way that helps them.
Any kind of therapy, in particular talk therapies, usually involves wanting to help a client reach a more satisfying, happier place in their life, doesn’t it?
We attempt to equip individuals with the skills to live in a way they find better.
As hypnotherapists, how do we do that?
What does a hypnotherapist says or do that influences the client in a beneficial way? Being able to progressively influence someone, is that something the hypnotherapist does to the client because of some inherent or innate gift or skill? I am sure many would suggest that the manner, skill and depth of knowledge of the hypnotherapist contribute to their ability to positively influence the client in a hypnosis session.
Or is the influencing happening because of the receptive (or non-receptive) state of the client? There are many of us in the hypnotherapy field that appreciate the client derives more benefit is they are sufficiently motivated, open-minded, expectant and prepared to be responsible for their share of the hypnotherapy results.
We can see that within advertising, suggestions are delivered. In hypnosis, we often consider our clients to be suggestible. Suggestibility can be seen as an ability to welcome new ideas, being prepared to learn new things and take on other perspectives, for example.
So then as we take on new information, ideas and perspectives, depending on its relevancy and beneficial value to the individual, it may well affect a person’s experience anywhere from a little to a lot.
Do you think that previous paragraph is about hypnosis or advertising?
In a hypnotherapy session, the client is the person being influenced, and is therefore in some sense also suggestible. They have chosen to be there in some way and therefore are open to making changes, obtaining new perspectives, and affecting their experience in ways that are going to help them enjoy life more, or cope with better in some way.
if you look at the work of Theodore Barber (1969) you’ll know that very few adults ever accept information without appraising it in some shape or form. So there is a great big difference between suggestibility and gullibility. Hypnosis does not render people gullible.
Is the same sort of suggestibility present when we are subjected to advertising. I don’t really think so. We are open to new experience, or may dig our heels in, defend our other choices in opposition to the advertisement, for example. And though that can happen in therapy too, there is a difference.
There are indeed a number of parallels between hypnosis and advertising. But advertising is not hypnosis. They share some principles and both hypnosis and advertising do learn a great deal from the other, but they are not the same thing. Ok, so we might use certain terms related to hypnosis to describe the effects of advertising from time to time, but when you look closer, you see how easy it is to distinguish one from the other.