The advertising industry is often met either with excitement or disdain and with trust in advertising being at an all-time low, who can blame them. However, what we and most people don’t realise is that advertising in one form or other has influenced how our and other species have evolved. Let’s take a look at how advertising is presented in nature, how evolution advertises in us humans and how we can use evolutionary theory principles to make effective advertising.
Advertising in nature
A definition of advertisement is ‘to notify (someone) of something’. Ethan Decker PhD, an ecologist who moved into advertising, has shown the parallels been advertising and evolution. Species advertise their genes, nutrition, danger and health. And we see it everywhere: peacocks are a clear example of having features (beautiful feathers) which have little benefit apart from signalling to a potential mate. We also see this is in deer’s antlers to fight off males to attract females; equally, brightly coloured flowers are to advertise to pollinators. And of course, there is deceptive advertising, with many animals showing black and yellow colours to promote danger with no actual ability to do so.
We see this ‘advertising’ in humans. As studies have even shown we are more attracted to individuals with symmetry as it signals genetic quality and developmental stability. This advertising is called sexual selection, a conspicuous way to advertise.
How we all advertise as humans
Advertising in humans evidently doesn’t just stop at genetics. ‘Peacocking’ means we show signals to our social groups through symbols. For example, a Rolex indicates having resources and money. We merge and adapt into our own environments so that different symbols are more useful in some contexts than others. For example, for an academic, intellect is valued and dressing like a Banker, may not be appropriate and be viewed as superficial. The materials we choose to present ourselves aren’t superficial but symbolic.
Advertising is not just entertainment, but it is useful to navigate the invisible. When deciding which brands to use, we are trying to guess which one will give you what you want. You are guessing at the invisible – so you use the visible to navigate which qualities you value and want, just as seen in nature. Advertising uses the visible to understand the invisible, like every species. Decker concludes ‘Advertising isn’t evil it’s nature’.
How we use evolutionary theory principles to make effective advertising?
So, we know we’re hardwired to look out for certain signals. And we would not have survived as a species if we had not paid attention to certain stimuli. In particular, faces are very important for humans. Faces signal health, genetics but especially emotion which has allowed empathy and co-operation, which has played a large part in our survival.
There are plenty of examples where we can tap into these evolutionary principles through advertising. One of the most powerful ways of doing this is through emotion. Many advertisers tap into the importance of emotion, especially our own examples of Cadbury, O2 and CompareTheMarket including adorable animals. Research into ‘What Makes Online Content Go Viral?’ found in, increase in emotionality made a New York Times article 18% more likely to reach the ‘most emailed’ list. And you are twice as likely to recall adverts two weeks later if they are emotional. Emotional advertising is not a new phenomenon, with many recognising the effectiveness of it, but the evolutionary theory can help us understand why it is so effective.
Ultimately, by understanding that advertising is present in nature, how evolution has shaped us, and why emotional advertising is so effective we can create more effective advertising in the future.