Evolution of Consumer Psychology

This discipline of psychology evolved over period in time, which stated in the 1940s and is still widely practiced today. When family-owned Johnson & Johnson discovered how helpful the consumer attitude was to the firm, they began airing children's advertisements emphasizing mother bonding with your kid. Consumer psychology is a subfield of social psychology concerned with consumer behavior. It closely examines a consumer's "wants" and "needs" to discover what drives their purchasing decisions.

Evolution of Consumer Psychology

Much of the connection between psychology and consumerism is due to Walter Dill Scott and his research in the early 1900s improving his marketing efforts. Scott first wrote on the general subject in 1903 with his book The Psychology of Advertising in Theory and Practice. He continued to focus on the application of scientific knowledge to business problems. Scott spent the latter part of his career studying social control and human motivation methods. The evolution of consumer psychology mirrors the growth of the advertising and commercial sectors in the United States and Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result, several schools of psychological thought have affected and influenced the approach to consumer psychology over the years. For example, psychologists' approach emphasizes the introspective observation of objects to explain behavior.

Consumer behavior and psychology continued to emerge in the 1940s and 1950s as distinct sub-discipline in the marketing field. In the late 1950s, two significant reports criticized marketing for its lack of methodological rigor, especially its lack of application of mathematically oriented behavioral science research methods. Beginning in the 1950s, consumer marketing shifted away from economics and other areas. This notably includes the behavioral sciences, including sociology, anthropology, and clinical psychology. This combination has emphasized the customer as the analytical unit. As a result, new background knowledge has been added to the marketing discipline. This includes ideas like thought leadership, reference groups, and brand loyalty.

Market segmentation, especially demographic segmentation based on socioeconomic status and household life cycle indicators, also became fashionable. With the addition of consumer behavior and psychology, the marketing discipline has shown increasing scientific sophistication in terms of procedures for developing and testing consumer psychological theories. Researchers have recently added new tools, such as ethnography, photographic techniques, and phenomenological interviews. Today, consumer behavior is considered an important principle in marketing and is included as a unit of study in nearly all primary marketing programs.

Early Pioneers (1895-1930)

The evolution of consumer psychology has taken place through the works of −

Karl Marx

Like other classical economists, Karl Marx believed in the labor theory of value (LTV) to explain relative differences in market prices. This theory asserts that the value of a product can be objectively measured by the average number of labor hours required to produce it. In other words, if a table takes twice as long to make a chair, the table should be twice as valuable. What Marx adds to this theory is the conclusion that this labor value represents the exploitation of workers. Marx asserted that two significant loopholes in capitalism lead to employers exploiting workers: the chaotic nature of free-market competition and the exploitation of surplus labor.

Marx predicted that capitalism would eventually destroy itself as more and more people were relegated to the working class status, inequality increased, and competition dented corporate profits equal to zero. He argued that this would lead to a revolution in which production would then be transferred to the working class.

Walter Dill Scott

The nature of applied psychology was too demanding for Walter Dill Scott in his pursuit of studying human behavior, which led him to formulate his theories. Scott developed the Law of Suggestion as an essential mechanism in advertising. He argues that consumers do not act rationally and can therefore be easily swayed. According to Scott, consumers' recommendation ability is based on three factors: emotion, empathy, and affection. He believes that advertising is primarily a tool of persuasion rather than an informational device and that advertising affects consumers in an almost hypnotic way. People are said to be very sensitive to cues as long as hints are available to them under different conditions. Using his three parts of recommendation power, Scott advises companies to adopt a "direct ordering" approach to advertising to consumers using phrases like "Use an Apple computer." Scott also recommends that companies use return coupons because they require direct action from consumers.

An article in the New York Times in 1903 suggested that Walter Dill Scott also advocated using illustrations in advertising. Illustrations grab the reader's attention and should be clear and relevant. This will then allow the reader to study the ad's explanatory text. Scott said companies should also consider the broadcast and tone the ad delivers to the audience. According to Scott, ads are used most effectively when many people of the right type see them in a post that builds more trust and favors it to potential customers. Successful copywriters must have technical knowledge, creative imagination, and the ability to describe things accurately.

In 1913, Scott proposed another publicity technique consisting of three stages: attention, comprehension, and comprehension. According to this model, advertising (or promotion) has three stages. They must first capture consumers' attention and help them develop beliefs about the product or service. Second, advertising must generate interest or positive emotions about the service or product. Third, advertising or promotion must create a consumer desire for a product or service. Ultimately, the consumer must be convinced and feel the need to act, i.e., buy the product.

Hugo Munsterberg

Hugo Munsterberg (1909), one of the pioneers of consumer psychology research, adopted this approach and advocated the study of psychological conditions in business and industry. His 1909 paper titled "Psychology and the Market" suggested that psychology could be used for many industrial applications, including management, business decisions, advertising, performance work, and employee motivation. His research was later summarized in the book Industrial Psychology and Efficiency (1913), which suggested that hiring workers whose personalities and mental abilities were better suited to Certain types of work are the best way to increase productivity, motivation, performance, and retention.

His self-proclaimed spokesman for Germany during World War I made him a target of disdain by many and perhaps explained why his important legacy was dismissed and ignored for so many years. Later, behaviorism also contributed to the study of consumer psychology. Other psychologists have focused on purchasing behavior rather than consumer insights, studying the impact of promotional factors such as word size and color on behavior. Then came Freud's psychodynamic approach, which studied the role of primary unconscious motivators influencing consumer behavior.

John B. Watson

John B. Watson, the creator of behaviorism, was the first famous psychologist to use psychological approaches to advertising (Kreshel, 1990). Watson is uniquely equipped to persuade consumers to consume various sorts of merchandise. He felt that people could be conditioned to be anything and that if humans could be molded into whatever he chose, it would be easy to persuade them to buy certain items and brands. As a result, after being forced to quit academia due to the embarrassment of having an affair with one of his research students, he joined America's largest advertising firm, J. Walter Thompson, in 1920.

He had used Ivan Pavlov's classical conditioning approach throughout his academic career, most notably in the Little Albert experiment. Watson (1919) felt that by using the principles of classical conditioning methodically, he could produce whatever type of human being he desired. Several say that Watson had a significant influence on advertising. Others argue that his most significant contribution was the introduction of testimonial advertising when a prospective client is convinced to try a product because it has been commended by someone else. Nevertheless, only some believe Watson revolutionized the way advertising was employed. He was more of a marketing ploy for the business that hired him in that he helped the advertising agency develop an even stronger reputation.


Our 65-year history of consumer psychology research began in the latter decade of the nineteenth century. The subject of consumer psychology arose from a particular interest in advertising and how it influenced consumers. The advertising industry was firmly established in the United States by the second part of the nineteenth century. Its expansion as an industry followed the country's industrial boom. The first systematic advertising began in the United States during colonial times, and the introduction of metropolitan newspapers boosted it.

As the country grew, there was a clear need to broaden the reach of advertising. Transportation and technology ushered in a "new industrial period" from 1850 to 1900. The first contributions to what became known as "consumer psychology" occurred in what became known as "scientific advertising," followed by the scientific study of personal selling. The term "consumer psychology" did not appear until the late 1950s.

Updated on: 03-Mar-2023


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