Why do advertisers use vivid imagery and sensory vocabulary in their ads? Simple. Because businesses want to associate their products with positive emotions and experiences in the consumer’s mind. As a result, whenever customers come across those products in real life, they will recall the feelings behind those ads. This process is called classical conditioning.

Classical conditioning is a form of learning introduced by Ivan Pavlov in his famous psychological experiment. In Pavlov’s dog experiment, he trained dogs to express a conditioned response using a conditioned stimulus. In the same manner, your goal in your advertising is to get people craving, longing, and itching for your solutions. That’s possible when you drizzle a dose of classical conditioning in your advertising.

There’s just one problem: it takes more than flowery words and cognitively stimulating imagery to get there. Here, we’ll discover how you could integrate classical conditioning in your ads to make your market respond in your favor. Keep reading.

Pavlov’s Dog and the Birth of Classical Conditioning

Pavlov’s dog experiment ultimately paved the way for understanding how canine learning works. While your target market is not dogs, classical conditioning is applicable and relevant to humans. Specifically, classical conditioning is a powerful agent in the world of advertising.

Before connecting the dots between classical conditioning and advertising, let’s first learn about Pavlov’s dog. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian Psychologist and behavioral scientist, had the inkling that salivating is natural among dogs. It is not a learned behavior but an unconditioned response to an unconditioned stimulus — food. When dogs see food, they naturally salivate in anticipation of eating.

However, before going over the experiment, he realized something else. The salivation process occurs not when the food is available but even before the food is in sight. Dogs begin to salivate as soon as they hear the footsteps of the assistant that serves the food. This incident triggered Pavlov’s interest in neutral stimuli. For some reason, Pavlov was interested in eliciting a response among dogs using a conditioned stimulus. That means getting the dogs to subconsciously react (salivate) to an action that is not associated with food.

As a result, he conducted an experiment where he played with a metronome before giving the dogs their food. Over time, the clicking sounds of the metronome caused salivation even in the absence of food.

In other words, Pavlov’s dog theory figured out how to induce a conditioned response to a conditioned stimulus. This type of learned behavior is called classical conditioning. Now, how does this relate to advertising? In business and advertising, entrepreneurs want to elicit a conditioned response from their market. To some, that response might induce a strong brand awareness.

On the other hand, other visionaries want to get the target audience to buy their products. Use classical conditioning techniques to control how customers react to your products and services. In advertising, your advertisement is the conditioned stimulus, while how your customers feel is the conditioned response. The goal is to emotionally connect with your customers through the ads for customers to respond desirably.

You leverage the value of your solutions when you associate them with pleasurable experiences and desirable qualities in your advertising. In other words, speak to the dog in the language of the dog — that’s how classical conditioning works in advertisements. More importantly, that is how you get customers to drool over your products and services.

Classical Conditioning Daily

Marketing and advertising are not the only aspects where classical conditioning is relevant. Classical conditioning is actually more common than we can ever imagine. In fact, most people are not aware, but classical conditioning is pulling the strings behind their lives. Creepy, isn’t it? Do not worry. While the dog bell experiment may be relevant to people, classical conditioning is not a negative principle.

Below, we’ll look at the most common classical conditioning examples that people experience daily:

Hotdog stand

Have you ever walked by a hotdog stand and suddenly felt hungry, even though you weren’t feeling it before? Eventually, it became your daily habit to walk by the stand and grab yourself a hotdog.

This is classical conditioning at work. As the hotdogs’ smell wafts through the air, your brain associates it with the positive experience of eating delicious food. The unconditioned stimulus is smelling the scent and seeing the sizzle of the hotdog, while the unconditioned response is hunger. Sooner or later, just the smell or sight of cooking hotdog alone triggers your cravings and makes you feel hungry.

PTSD trigger

While classical conditioning can be associated with everyday responses, a negative stimulus can also trigger this behavioral learning. One example is the development of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the face of a traumatic event, the unconditioned response may be an adrenaline rush to panic and go hysterical. This is a common problem among vets who have experienced the horrors of war. Worse, it may lead to flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety. As a result, conditioned stimuli like fireworks or loud banging noises may trigger PTSD symptoms and intense feelings of fear. This is the foundation behind fear-based marketing.

Companies exploit classical conditioning by adding negative stimuli alongside their products. This includes showing gruesome images, negative imagery, or fear-inducing words. Consumers associate this inherent fear with the product and feel a sense of urgency to buy it to escape harm.

Toy advertisement/Window display

Another example of classical conditioning in advertising can be seen in toy advertisements or window displays.

Think about a toy store with a display featuring the latest and greatest action figure or doll. The display is often surrounded by bright lights and flashy signs, creating a positive association with the product. You’ll see kids with wide-open eyes drooling over the displayed toys. But what if the store decided to change the display and make it more subdued? Perhaps even adding an unpleasant scent to the mix? The product may elicit a different positive response from customers. This is the work of classical conditioning.

The toy acts as the unconditioned stimulus because it naturally evokes a positive response. Conversely, the flashy lights and pleasant smells are conditioned stimuli that reinforce children’s affinity to the display. That’s why toy ads feature kids playing with toys, buzzing and booming sounds, and colorful and vivid lights.

The coffee aroma in an open café

The smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the air can act as a conditioned stimulus in classical conditioning. Imagine customers having positive experiences (such as enjoying a delicious cup of coffee) in the presence of the coffee’s aroma.

People may begin to associate the scent with pleasure and satisfaction. In this way, the smell of coffee can serve as an effective advertising tool for cafes. Enticing to the senses, customers will come inside and potentially make a purchase.

However, there’s a caveat. It is important to note that classical conditioning only works if the unconditioned stimulus remains positive. In this case, the actual taste and enjoyment of the coffee stays as delicious as can be. If the coffee starts to disappoint customers, the pleasant aroma may no longer be enough to draw them in.

Let’s step back into Pavlov’s dog bell experiment again. If Pavlov stopped giving dogs food at the sound of the metronome, the dogs would eventually stop salivating. It’s the meat paste that dogs want, not the bell that rings along with it.

Consistently give your customers meat paste, and they’ll salivate all the same with your advertising efforts.

Product jingle/Theme song

Have you ever found yourself singing along to a commercial jingle or humming the theme song of your favorite show? What did it make you feel? If it was an 80s theme song, you felt nostalgic and wanted to watch the show again. On the other hand, singing along to memorable product jingles helps greatly in brand recall.

Like Pavlov’s classical conditioning story, we have learned to associate certain sounds with products or shows. For instance, don’t you crave a Big Mac whenever you hear McDonald’s classic “I’m lovin’ it” outro song? Or perhaps, Coca-Cola’s “Taste the Feeling” jingle makes you want to reach for a cold can of Coke. That’s classical conditioning at work.

Repetitive exposure to branding elements like jingles and theme songs can condition consumers to associate those sounds with brands. This elicits a desirable internal reaction, if not outward, among the people listening to those branding elements. The thing is: it’s not just jingles and theme songs that induce those actions. After all, not every business has a jingle, but what gives their ads the kick of classical conditioning?

Below, we’ll delve into how classical conditioning can be used in your residential home services ads.

Pavlov’s Dog and Grudge Purchases

Let’s all agree people begrudge all types of grudge purchases – for example home services like roofing, HVAC, plumbing, masonry, lawn care, etc. All home services are on the, “I haven’t budgeted for you” list for your customers. It’s the thought of calling your business up for a service people don’t want to deal with.

Sadly, many customers are naturally inclined to think that home service contractors are ripping them off. Your quote (any quote) leaves a bitter taste in their mind when they see the bottom line.

It is because you are selling an externally triggered grudge purchase. Let’s break this down:

  • Externally triggered,” meaning the purchase decision is motivated by an external event – something broke. This forces them to make a buy in response to a NEED, not a WANT.
  • Grudge purchase” because people love gratification. When they’re forced to buy something, this depletes their happiness with a negative situation. Now they have to spend money they don’t want to, take time away from their already busy schedules, and cope with the anxiety, frustration, and stress of the situation.

Your goal as a business is to bring calm back to your customer’s life. To transform their buying decisions from negative resonance to positive resonance — that’s where classical conditioning comes in. That’s what you’re selling when advertising AC unit diagnosis, plumbing repair, and roof replacement.

How exactly do you make your advertisements positive in your customers’ minds? Simple. Speak to the dog in the language of the dog. What does the dog like to hear?

Speak music in their ears

The key to successfully pulling off classical conditioning is to tell your target market what they want to hear. That is a partial list of your product features and benefits. Even if you repeatedly tell them how cold their AC is or how durable your plumbing pipes are, it won’t work.

Customers want you to meet them in their perceptual reality — the only reality that matters for businesses. Their perceptual reality hides in the advantages of your products, not in the benefits or features. Your target market will listen to your offer when you articulate the advantage they’ll get from your solutions. For instance, imagine an air-conditioning unit:

  • Feature: High-quality refrigerant inside indoor coils
  • Benefit: Works faster in making the room cold
  • Advantage: They don’t have to wait before the cool breeze kisses them

Use vivid imagery and powerful sensory words

Advertising is more than speaking about the advantages that make your solution 600 ft above the competition. You need to articulate your advertisements to get the message across creatively.

Poor advertisements get lost in the gray; your goal is to rise above obscurity and connect with customers emotionally. In this case, instead of boasting about how cold your air-conditioning unit is, say it creatively. For example, saying, “Our cold AC is the coolest there is!” doesn’t give off the factor that makes people imagine. Instead, you could say, “The refreshing kiss of cold air will cool the sweat on your brow.” The point is to make people cognitively experience those advantages through vividly imaginative words.

Give them an offer they cannot resist

Like Pavlov’s dog experiment, the metronome would eventually cease making dogs salivate if the meat paste no longer comes with it. In advertising, you must pair your desirable, creative, and vivid advertising with an offer that’s truthfully worth having. Give them an offer they can’t refuse, and they’ll say yes every time.

The key here is to create a perfectly fair competitive advantage. That means you must make an offer that outstrips your competitors. Speak about the value and benefit of having your product. What do you offer that others will not or cannot? Be bold and overarching while remaining realistic. Look at those small pizza businesses that give their products for free if delivery exceeds their promised time. That’s a perfectly fair competitive advantage.

A perceptually high-risk, high-reward offer that makes it hard to say “no” to. For example:

  • A 50-year non-prorated warranty for the roof you install.
  • Always on-schedule visits or the service call is free.
  • One-year no-risk service warranty if your HVAC unit breaks after repair.

Whatever it is, customers should feel like they’re getting more from you than you from them. That’s the secret to creating an irresistible offer. Getting ahead in your advertising is all about classical conditioning. When you condition them to look at your business in a positive light, you win the business.

So, are you ready to condition your market’s mind? If yes, and you need help, we can support you. Our team will ensure that all your ads and business touchpoints are geared toward classical conditioning. Book a call with Ryan Chute, and let’s speak to the dogs in their woof-woof language.