Science and Advertising


About four years ago, I set out to research the origination of scientific principles in advertising–specifically the integration of John B. Watson’s behaviorism into the industry via JWT agency. After a delightful partnership with my favorite professor, a trip to visit the Hartman Center at Duke, and numerous iterations, the paper is now complete!

The reason I mention it here is  that one section details the relevancy of behavioristic principles in a networked media environment. Here’s that excerpt:

“In addition, the shift in how advertising messaging was framed created long-term change for the industry. During the 1930s-‘50s messaging became more about satisfying instead of developing consumer wants, accepting the applicability of behavioral sciences. In more recent year, digital technologies have contributed greatly to communication platforms by creating ‘positive feedback’ (Davidow, 2011, p. 24), used in the sense of engineering where change begets change and accelerates it. Through this constant development, ever-expanding networks have grown and shifted communication to a “many-to-many” format, meaning numerous individuals can now contribute to the conversation in real-time due to the increased accessibility of communication portals and unlimited networks that subsequently develop. The communication network is now dynamic, “active,” (Marwick & Boyd, 2010, p. 16) and offers “a clear way to communicate with the speaker” (p. 16). In regard to advertising, this shift had significant ramifications on the messaging equation. The consumer still receives a message, but now both the consumer and the message are affected by the surrounding network, which consists of many varied thoughts and emotions. In other words, the interwoven nature of networked media connects consumers not only to the messenger but also to each other (p. 16).

The question is whether behaviorism is still relevant ­­­­as an effective tool in message construction. The behaviorist would continue to focus on manipulating the message to cater to the consumer’s predetermined psychological traits, but the new network factor in the equation serves as an amplifier of both message and consumer–the network is constantly affecting both. A message is no longer sent and directly received; it can be manipulated by others in the network before and after an individual’s exposure. The consumer is also affected by the network, which is constantly involved in the communication process. The network also poses a challenge because it is an indefinable variable that has no structured boundaries and is in constant flux (see Figure 1 below).”

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 10.51.38 PMFor the full article and references, you can download my paper here. I promise, it’s riveting*!

*My definition of riveting does not always align with others’.


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