How Confirmation Bias in Advertising Tricks You Into Buying

Confirmation bias in advertising is commonly used to manipulate you into buying things you don’t really need. By presenting information that supports their claims and ignoring information that disproves them, advertisers can make you believe something even if it isn’t true.

Advertisers have long ago learned to use confirmation bias to their advantage. They use persuasive language and imagery to emphasize a product’s positive features while downplaying or ignoring any weaknesses. Through careful selection of phrasing and images, they can create an illusion that the advantages of a product or service are much greater than they actually are, leading people to believe that these things are essential for them even though this is often far from the truth.

Confirmation bias is when people only look for information that confirms their existing beliefs

While many don’t realize it, people typically subconsciously look for facts or evidence that confirms their existing beliefs, while largely disregarding any evidence or opinions to the contrary. Advertisers take advantage of this by skewing the representation of their product or service, which can have an immense impact on a consumer’s perception and decision-making process.

They further utilize the psychology behind confirmation bias by highlighting positive customer reviews, emphasizing the belief that the product being promoted is ‘the best’ out of all others, and telling stories of success as proof of their claims. Sometimes, marketers even rely on unethical advertising techniques such as using bots to create fake customer reviews that will influence peoples’ buying decisions. This is why it’s important to be aware of confirmation bias so you can make informed decisions when it comes to spending your hard-earned money.

The psychology behind confirmation bias

It causes people to think they are making a choice, rather than being influenced by outside forces that lead them to buy something without thinking it through properly. As a result, confirmation bias can be very dangerous, especially when considering financial decisions, thus it should be both acknowledged and carefully managed.

Much like the door-to-door vacuum salespeople of yore, modern-day advertisers commonly lead people to make bad decisions such as spending too much money on something that doesn’t really bring them any benefits. People need to be aware of this and take precautionary measures to prevent it from clouding their judgment. Ignorance isn’t bliss in this case; it is vital to adequately research before spending your hard-earned money to avoid falling for the tricks like this.

Consider the story below.

Meet Jack, a victim of confirmation bias

Jack was scrolling through the latest tech reviews when he saw a new product that he had to have. He liked the sleek design, the interesting features, and the impressive specs — it was perfect! He clicked on the ad, expecting to read some more about it. But instead of a technical description or reason for purchasing, Jack encountered a seemingly endless amount of people who were either successful or praising the product after having tried it.

Everyone loved their experience with this item and despite his better judgment, Jack decided to take a chance on it too. Tricking himself into believing that because so many others loved it, he surely would as well, Jack had been swayed by confirmation bias without realizing it. With excitement in his eyes, he hit “purchase,” not knowing that in doing so he had allowed advertisers to manipulate him into buying something he didn’t ultimately need.

Jack had high hopes when making his purchase, fully expecting the product to do exactly what it said it would. Countless customer reviews all spoke of the wonders the item could perform – but Jack’s experience failed to live up to these expectations. Upon trying out this alleged miracle product, Jack found it was far less easy to use as claimed, and hardly lived up to the features described by so many others who purchased it. It seemed that his money had been ill-spent, and he was left feeling duped and disappointed in the end.

After a few more misdirected purchases such as this, Jack was now desperate to get out of the endless cycle of debt he had fallen into. He had no money saved and no steady income to rely upon, so, after seeing an ad for payday loans, he determined it as a surefire way to turn his fortunes around. Enticed by the promise that this solution would provide quick and easy access to extra funds, Jack immediately put in an application without taking any other considerations into account.

Unfortunately, when the loan came through it not only carried expensive interest rates, but also numerous restrictions on what he could do with his newfound finances — unlike advertised. This made it even harder for Jack to cover basic costs while leading him deeper into a financial bind he thought he had escaped.

The most manipulative of advertisers tap into people like Jack, who struggle with their identity because they are socially and/or financially disenfranchised as a result of systemic oppression. These audiences may also feel frustrated due to a lack of success, and are desperate for a solution. This creates an inferiority complex, which then ultimately spurs the search for an ideology that can empower you and tell you what you want to hear.

While this is a hypothetical story, there are very real examples throughout history of confirmation bias being used to further the ends of large corporations in the United States.

Past examples of confirmation bias being used in advertising

In the 1950s and 1960s, ads regularly featured images of homogeneous nuclear families—which did not necessarily reflect reality—to influence people into believing it was the ideal American family structure.

In more recent years, fast food chains have utilized confirmation bias by emphasizing ethical values such as sustainability and health due to rising awareness among consumers over these issues, despite the reality behind these companies being far removed from those values.

Cigarette and now vape companies as well have been known to target impressionable teenagers by emphasizing images of rebels and showcasing the ‘coolness’ of this act to specifically influence those who are already predisposed to these characteristics.

Similarly, lenders and banks have historically used catchy phrases such as “With your qualifications, you can acquire this loan easily!”, or sending people direct mail with credit card offers that state the person is “pre-approved”, which encourages people like our dear Jack above to make decisions without important considerations such as debt management or interest rates.

Practical problems aside, there is a far more nefarious use for confirmation bias that has been gaining more and more popularity over recent years – political campaigning.

Confirmation bias is the foundation of the slippery slope to groupthink

Confirmation bias taps into certain weaknesses that naturally exist within all of us, such as our insecurities and fears. This often results in the formation of artificial social pressures that cause people to lose personal autonomy and adhere to what they see others doing instead.

Groupthink replaces individual thought; mindsets become uniform, and one’s own logic is accepted and emphasized while any opposing perspective is excluded. When this cycle of conditioning persists, people are more likely to fall prey to dangerous ideologies driven by confirmation bias than if they had remained independent thinkers immune to external influences.

The result of this can be extremely damaging; as individuals become enthralled in dogmatic beliefs, they lose their sense of independent thought, becoming irreversibly indoctrinated in these ideas. For those on the outside looking in, it can be especially hard to convince them otherwise due to the sheer number of people who form these beliefs- the harder it is to sway them from a collective viewpoint. Once ensnared by confirmation bias, it is tough to reverse its effects and regain one’s objectivity.

Those of us in the United States can most likely personally relate to this phenomenon, especially in recent years.

But are we aware of just how big of a problem this is?

Confirmation bias is tearing us apart

Confirmation bias in politics is having a detrimental effect on the United States. This phenomenon has now become commonplace in both mainstream media and everyday conversations. As a result, people have become more deeply entrenched in their political opinions than ever before, leading to an erosion of civil discourse and a divisiveness that has taken root throughout the nation.

It has become increasingly difficult for people to reach meaningful compromise or understanding on even the most basic of issues which weakens our democracy and threatens our standing as a global superpower. A good first step to address this problem is for all citizens to make an effort to challenge any preconceived notions with facts and evidence rather than one’s own assumptions.

The increasingly insidious nature of confirmation bias in American politics is tearing the nation apart at the seams. It has cemented the left versus right dichotomy, which isn’t conducive to finding solutions to our nation’s biggest problems.

Instead, we are set on proving each other wrong, convincing ourselves that our own opinion is right even in the face of contradicting evidence. This kind of mental gymnastics stunts progress, decreases meaningful dialogue, and hinders our ability to achieve any sort of consensus.

We all must strive towards an apolitical way of viewing an issue before allowing preconceived notions to drive us further apart and make the rift between us wider and deeper than ever before.

Is there any hope left for us?

If we are ever to reconcile this division in the United States, modern-day political campaigning must be much more heavily regulated to correct false information from spreading quickly and undetected.

Only when those who propagate false accusations are faced with consequences can citizens remain unbiased in their political beliefs and make more informed decisions about their elected leaders. We must bravely be willing to challenge this practice if we ever hope to bring unity back into our fractured nation.

We must acknowledge that without proper restrictions on political campaigning, there will be no way to reduce confirmation bias. Due to lobbying, many political figures and parties receive donations from large companies and they are allowed to spend it as they wish, giving the wealthy a massive edge in influence. Meaning those with money have a greater ability to control the policies of any given party, rather than having public opinion actually drive decisions.

To truly heal the divisions we have created in the United States, we must take steps to ensure that all citizens’ voices are heard equally, protect ourselves from exploitation, and punish wrongdoers accordingly.

If you want to dive deeper into how confirmation bias is used in advertising, then watch or listen to our interview episode, An Interview with Kyle Golding on Unethical Advertising, where he shares an intense experience with unethical advertising involving confirmation bias, which led to him quitting his full-time job.

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