How Operant Conditioning Is Used In Advertising

This is FREE sample
This text is free, available online and used for guidance and inspiration. Need a 100% unique paper? Order a custom essay.
  • Any subject
  • Within the deadline
  • Without paying in advance
Get custom essay

“Operant conditioning can loosely be defined as follows: ‘behaviour is a function of its consequences.’” (Stach, 2017, p.1) Operant conditioning is a psychological principle used to shapes one’s behaviors through positive or negative reinforcement or punishment. The two that are covered in advertisements are negative punishment, when the behavior happens less often and something is subtracted, and positive reinforcement, when the behavior happens more often and something is given. This method of psychological manipulation can prove extremely effective, if there are elements of truth as its basis.

“In marketing, the desired end is appropriate behavior manipulation and control to further the goals of the organization.” (Peter, 1982, p.3) Advertisements use a need satisfaction approach in their manipulations. This means they use operant conditioning to force us to think we have a need that can only be satisfied by their product or services.

Role In Advertising

Negative Punishment

Negative punishment, in a learning environment, is when a favored item is taken away because of the subjects behavior. In advertising, this is used to make the individuals who are not using their products feel left out or punished. In commercials, it is common to see something favorable happen to those who buy or use a specific product that the advertiser is attempting to sell. Often, the advertiser will show the sorry state of those who do not purchase the product. Perhaps they are portrayed as being left regrettably sad on the sideline. The hope of the advertiser is for the consumer to feel compelled to buy the product, so as not to feel left out or punished.

Positive Reinforcement

It has been proven that users are more likely to visit a site again if the experience was enjoyable and intriguing. So how do advertisers create this positive experience for its audience? The first step is to seek out what motivates its viewers; its interests, opinions, and personalities. One example of operant conditioning is gamification. This uses a system to draw in viewers by giving them a reward for performing certain tasks. Giving the opportunity for the audience to earn free merchandise or virtual currency draws them in. Businesses, such as Sprinkles, entice people to go to their stores by offering amazing deals on Twitter. For example, the first fifty customers to give the employees the “secret code” get a free cupcake.

The Example of Axe Body Spray. Axe body spray is known for its outlandish commercials. In many of these ads, a small, dirty, and sad man longs for a better life. He then decides to use this magical spray and all of the sudden, this man turns into a completely person. They purposely turn this character into a big, strong, confident, and attractive man. The result is a swarm of ladies that cannot stay away from him.

Accuracy. A guy might like to believe that a simple body spray can change the course of your life, but this is not completely accurate. The hard truth is, if you use this product the chances of you turning into Dwayne The Rock is simply impossible and ridiculous. If you use this product, you cannot physically turn into a new person. The consequences of this extremity is viewers unbelief. However, there are ways to create a less extreme version of this operant conditioning that becomes more believable and more successful.

How We Can Make This More Accurate. What would be a more accurate representation of operant conditioning in this example? The trick to creating a better representation is some basis of truth. Instead of switching actors, it may follow the same actor through the before and after effects. In the before, the man can be snobbish and dirty. After using the spray, the same actor could resemble feeling more confident by changing into nicer clothes and combing his hair. Because of his new fresh look, he may walk confidently through the streets waving at strangers walking by. One of these people could be a woman that smiles and waves back at him. This new example is a way for bringing in an element of truth. People might not fall for the outlandish, life changing interpretation, and could view it as a joke. With a more accurate representation, it would be more believable and more attainable to the normal man.


Operant conditioning plays a major role in the advertising and marketing world today. Through positive reinforcement and negative punishment, marketers are able to manipulate our thinking and direct us toward buying their product. However, to hold the viewer’s attention, it is an immediate reinforcement. “Most research has shown that immediate reinforcement is more effective than delayed reinforcement for changing behavior.” (Peter, 2018, p.4) An interesting research question with this principle would be for health and exercise advertisements. We often wonder, if there are “rewards” that come from exercising (better cardiovascular endurance and strength, mood elevation, and weight loss), why doesn’t everyone exercise? The theory is that delayed gratification of those “rewards” is outweighed by the instant “punishment” or discomfort (muscle pain, difficulty breathing, etc.) perhaps we could study this concept by introducing an instant reward. There could be advertisements claiming to pay you to exercise. Would this method be more successful in encouraging exercise and healthy habits?


  1. Stach, J. (2018). EmeraldInsight. [online] Emeraldinsight.com. Available at: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/QMR-03-2016-0023 [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
  2. Peter, P. and Nord, W. (2018). EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page. [online] Web.a.ebscohost.com. http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=11&sid=4096249c-f0f0-42f7-b6fb-0adae4415d9b%40sessionmgr4007 [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].

Cite this paper

How Operant Conditioning Is Used In Advertising. (2021, Jun 18). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/how-operant-conditioning-is-used-in-advertising/



How conditioning is used in marketing?
Conditioning is a process that companies use to influence consumer behavior. They do this by repeatedly exposing consumers to their products or services in order to create a desired response.
How do businesses use operant conditioning?
businesses use operant conditioning to change employee behavior. They do this by providing rewards for desired behaviors and punishing undesired behaviors.
What is conditioning theory advertising?
Conditioning theory advertising posits that advertising works by conditioning consumers to respond to certain stimuli, such as product placement or celebrity endorsements, in a desired way.
What type of conditioning is used in advertising?
Using Classical Conditioning in Advertising The general idea is to create an advertisement that has positive features such that the ad creates enjoyment in the person exposed to it. The enjoyable ad serves as the unconditioned stimulus (US), and the enjoyment is the unconditioned response (UR).
We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Peter is on the line!

Don't settle for a cookie-cutter essay. Receive a tailored piece that meets your specific needs and requirements.

Check it out