Psychology, Marketing and Careers

By Jagdeep Bhogal

Marketing is the all important platform that business organisations use in order to promote their brand or product to the mass market. When we watch films depicting marketing teams on the job, we often get the impression that marketing and advertising is based around graphs, charts, and a wealth of other statistics (and to be fair, this is true to a large extent!). However, if you’ve ever watched ‘Mad Men’ psychologists will recognise that when Don Draper is struggling to come up with a way to advertise a new brand of tobacco, he’s approached with the idea that people have a ‘death wish’ (ring any bells? – by the way, it’s Freud if the bells are silent) and that this was the way to promote the brand, although he’s quite dismissive of the idea…well, what does he know!?

Marketing strategies come in all shapes and sizes and today with social networking at the forefront of online communication, we just cannot help sending funny and interesting videos to our friends. Interestingly, many businesses seem to be cashing in on this craze by developing edgy adverts that with a bit of luck, go viral. For example during a photo shoot for Gillete, Roger Federer was filmed serving a tennis ball to knock a bottle clean off the top of a crew members head. The video has since been seen on Gillette’s YouTube page over 9 million times; however it has also attracted much debate as to its authenticity. According to, one twitter user even commented ‘Fake attempt at viral marketing. It’s fake.’

Although this Twitter user might be right regarding the events in the video (and I would have to agree!) does it really matter if it was fake? In my opinion, the purpose of advertising is to reach out to the target audience in the most attention-seeking way possible. Gillette’s attempt at this is a prime example of the sheer power of viral marketing, where adverts like this gather huge amounts of attention even if it comes from the sceptical. So as they say, ‘there is no such thing as bad press’.

Yet this isn’t the only avenue of marketing and psychological theories can often explain how and why people are drawn into purchasing the latest gadgets. Second year psychology students will recognise the ‘foot-in-the-door technique’ from their Social psychology module, where compliance with a small request can lead to an internal drive to follow through on a larger request. Another theory follows ‘Self-Perception Theory’ where people infer attitudes consistent with their behaviours; for example, when people take a free sample they often believe that they must actually like the product, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken the sample.

An interesting example of psychology and marketing in a real life context follows a study conducted by Kelting and Rice (2013). By the process of association (does that bring anything to mind? Sorry, not funny), we often associate celebrities with products they are endorsing, often eliciting responses like ‘I HAVE to get those new Adidas trainers! ‘. In this study, the researchers used retired Football star David Beckham to answer the question of whether you can be sure that a celebrity’s image brings to mind YOUR associated product, and not one of the many others they endorse.

Skipping to the results (don’t worry, you won’t see any ‘p’ values or ANOVA’s here!) the researchers found that the extent to which the product you want to associate with Beckham is brought to mind, depends on the extent to which the competing brand is associated with Beckham. If this other brand is very strongly (like a pair of football boots) or very weakly (a baseball bat) connected to Beckham, it’s more likely to interfere with recall of the target brand, compared to when the competing brand is ‘moderately’ associated with Beckham.

These theories and research are mentioned to give you an idea of the influence psychology has outside the realms of traditional science, and how psychology helps paint a bigger picture – psychology doesn’t always have to be about diagnosing mental health disorders or developing clinical treatments. I personally know a number of students who have come into the course with a plan of what career they want to do, but after two years of study, totally rethink what they want to do and often begin looking outside of pure psychology.

So naturally, psychology can take you into many industries and isn’t just limited to research or the often pursued clinical and forensic routes. The various modules we study including Social Psychology can be the basis for a future career in Marketing. Even the extensive work into Research Methods and Statistics can give you a boost, as Marketing often does include gathering information through various qualitative and quantitative methods (and for those of you who don’t really enjoy research methods, I think this shows that it can actually be useful!). Further study can also be pursued including a Master’s degree in Marketing, where prior experience or knowledge is not a prerequisite. However if costs are the issue, work experience in the industry can be valuable tool to help gain a graduate position in Marketing. Following this route, many companies often pay for you to obtain further qualifications in Marketing, particularly qualifications with the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing).

Overall, Psychology branches into a variety of different industries and is not necessarily confined to science. So if you are unsure about potential career paths following your degree and don’t necessarily want to pursue a career in the immediate world of psychology, there are a number of ways to go, and marketing can be one of them.

For more information on careers outside of psychology, please check out the following link.


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